If you're looking for a new job it's easy to confuse a recruiter with a headhunter or even a hiring manager. All these terms may seem interchangeable
because they all refer to someone who can help you get a job. But each of
these positions has different responsibilities, and those differences affect
how you can work with them on your job
If you've been wondering what is the difference between a headhunter and a recruiter, we're here to clear away some of the confusion. We'll explain each of these terms so that you can understand how to work with each hiring professional. We'll also discuss what a hiring manager does.
What is the Difference Between a Headhunter and Recruiter? (& Hiring Managers)
Let's discuss the differences between the various types of hiring professionals.
What Is a Recruiter?
A recruiter is a broad definition for someone who finds candidates to fill a specific position. Recruiters, in most cases, refer to in-house or internal recruiters that work only for one company.
They only source candidates for the company that employs them, and they’re paid a salary so they’re generally less aggressive because they don’t work on commission. Recruiters can answer your questions about the job, salary, and company culture better compared to external staffing agents.
What Are Headhunters?
Companies work with corporate headhunters (external recruiters) when the position they need to fill is urgent or difficult to place.
Corporate headhunters work with multiple companies and fill multiple job openings. Some of these arrangements are non-exclusive, meaning the company may also work with another headhunter or are recruiting on their own.
Since headhunters are only paid on commission after the vacancy is filled, this set-up adds to the pressure they feel to deliver a suitable candidate. To increase the odds of a successful placement, corporate headhunters send multiple applicants for the same job opening.
Corporate headhunters also don’t have specific information about the vacancies they will offer because they’re only a third party hired to source candidates.
There are different types of external recruiters (headhunters). Let's take a closer look at some of the variations:
Different Types of External Recruiters
1. Contingency Recruiter
A contingency recruiter is responsible for the initial phase of the recruiting process. Here are some of their responsibilities:
- Source candidates through job postings, resume banks, etc.
- Screen resumes
- Conduct initial interviews to confirm a candidate’s background and compatibility with the company, including salary, location, and schedule preferences. They screen out candidates that don’t fit their client’s budget.
- Arrange interviews for the candidate with the hiring company
Contingency recruiters are also called corporate headhunters, and they’re hired when there’s a sudden talent demand that the in-house recruiters can’t meet. In most cases, they only help in hiring entry to mid-level candidates.
2. Retained Recruiters
Retained recruiters have the same responsibilities as corporate headhunters, but they’re the cream of the crop. Retained recruiters are hired to fill technical and senior-level positions. Unlike contingency recruiters, they’re paid an upfront fee while the remainder is settled after the placement is confirmed. They only work on exclusive assignments, so the company working with them can’t ask another recruiter to fill the same position.
This way, they act as a consultant to find the perfect candidate that matches the precise specifications laid out by the hiring company, which means they either have previous experience in the field they’re hiring for or have built an extensive network due to years of experience hiring for the same industry. Retained recruiters only work with few companies and even fewer candidates, so they focus more on talent-to-employer fit.
What is a Hiring Manager?
Hiring manager is a broad term that applies to the person who makes the decision on whether to hire a candidate or not. In most cases, this person will be the manager or supervisor the new hire will report to.
A hiring manager doesn’t source candidates. In most cases, they’re only involved in the latter parts of the hiring process, such as the final interview and job offer. That’s why you need to build relationships with both in-house recruiters and headhunters. You need them before you can get to the hiring manager.
What Does a Corporate Headhunter Do?
Headhunters work hand-in-hand with in-house recruiters, or sometimes directly with the hiring manager. The in-house recruiter or hiring manager drafts a job description listing the experience, skills, personality, and other qualifications they need for the role.
Then the headhunter will source candidates that perfectly match those parameters. “Match” is the keyword here, because if you don’t tick off all the requirements on their checklist, they won’t recommend you for the job.
How to Find In-House Recruiters & Corporate Headhunters
Both headhunters and in-house recruiters are easy to find online and in networking events. The key, for starters, is to find as many of them that works in your industry and has experience placing candidates with your job function.
Where to Search for Recruiters and Headhunters
1. Online Directories. These show professional headhunters and staffing firms according to the location, job, or industry you select. Recommended Recruiter, Online Recruiters Directory, and Searchfirm.com are just some of the options here.
2. Check Google. Conduct a Google search with any of the following keyword combinations:
- “Search firms” + your location or industry
- “Staffing firm” + your job function
- “Executive recruiter” + the industry you’re in
- “Recruiter” + company you want to work for
3. Ask for Recommendations. Your friends and colleagues may have
worked with a corporate headhunter before, or they may know someone who works as an
in-house recruiter at one of your target companies. Reach out to them to ask
for an introduction or the person’s contact information if they don’t want to
Here's some additional information on networking to find a job:
4. Check LinkedIn. The keyword combinations that you tried on Google may also work on LinkedIn, except LinkedIn has the added benefit of allowing you to follow, connect, and message the job recruiters and headhunters you find. You can even check their profile before reaching out to see if they have a vacancy that interests you.
How to Get the Attention of Headhunters & In-house Recruiters
If you followed the tips above, you’ll now have a short list of professional headhunters and job recruiters to work with. Now, it’s just a numbers game. Reach out to as many as you can with a personalized introduction, then build the relationship from there.
Not all of them will reply or have an opportunity for you, so you need to do the legwork to find those who can help you.
Below are more tips to help you get the attention of job recruiters and headhunters:
1. Update All Your Career Marketing Materials
You might think, what’s the risk? They only need to forward your resume. But their reputation as a recruiter or headhunter is based on their ability to source quality candidates. They can’t just forward your resume because you said please.
Give them enough reasons to recommend you by explaining how your professional experience matches the requirements for the vacancy they need to fill, ideally through your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile. They’re paid to make the lives of the in-house recruiter and hiring manager easier, not to waste resources and add to their list of rejected applicants.
- 22 Email Cover Letter Tips: With Easy to Follow SamplesCharley Mendoza22 Sep 2020
- How LinkedIn Can Help Your Career Stand OutTerri Williams27 Jun 2014
- How to Make a Great LinkedIn Profile (+18 Best Tips)Charley Mendoza12 Jun 2021
2. Act Now, Before You Need Help
A professional headhunter may approach you for a position you’re not fully qualified for or interested in, but that doesn’t mean you should just leave the conversation at that. Offer to help out. Give them names of people you think are qualified or are interested in the role.
How does this benefit you? Connecting people builds your network and “good will” fund. Whoever you recommend will appreciate you for doing so, because your recommendation validated their skill and they may be interested in what the headhunter is offering. If they end up taking the job, that’s even better. The headhunter, on the other hand, will be thankful you led them to a qualified candidate.
When the time comes, and you’re the one that needs help, the
friend you recommended for a role will be happy to recommend you for available
positions they know. The corporate headhunter will also be happy to return the favor by arranging
an interview for a position they’re filling, or recommending you to other
The networking tips in the tutorials below can further help you to build your network:
- How to Professionally Network as a Small Business OwnerMarc Schenker13 Jun 2022
- Networking for Introverts: How to Connect with ConfidenceLisa Hunter04 Nov 2020
3. Establish Strategic Relationships
Establish a long-term give and take relationship with the professional headhunters and in-house recruiters you trust. Check-in with them regularly, like once every few months, to see if there’s a position where you can recommend someone.
With a long-term solid relationship like this, you can even authorize them to send your resume to job ads that match your specifications. Just ask them to tell you where they’re sending your resume to avoid complications with your current employer.
Only do this if you’re actually interested in moving on, given the right job and salary package. Don’t do this just for the sake of seeing what’s out there, because corporate headhunters won't appreciate you for wasting their time.
4. Don’t Send Your Resume at First Contact
Unless the job recruiter or headhunter is actively sourcing for someone with your skills, don’t send them your resume when you make an introduction. It won’t get read and it shows them that you don’t understand how the headhunter-job applicant relationship works.
5. Observe the Basic Niceties
Recruiters and headhunters are used to tardy candidates and unanswered phone calls. But they're professionals that expect professional treatment in return. This means you should:
- Return phone calls when you can’t answer them.
- Be upfront if you can’t make it or will be late.
- Be candid about your career plans.
- Be transparent if you've got other job offers.
Your transparency and politeness will make you stand out from the throng of unprofessional candidates they deal with.
6. Send Thank You Notes and Updates
Thank you notes aren’t just for interviewers. Professional headhunters also appreciate it, because they know that if you sent one to them, you also sent one to their client.
You should also take time to update them regarding the
status of your interview, so they’re not left wondering if the interview
actually took place or you never showed up. Don’t wait for them to call you
asking how the interview went, just call them to briefly discuss the interview
and who you talked to.
If you don't know how to write an interview thank you email, review this tutorial:
7. Keep Them In the Loop
The best way to stay in-touch with a recruiter is to work with them again next time you switch jobs. It proves that they did a good job placing you and that you’re willing to trust them again for your next career move. They may even prioritize placing you because you’ve already proven yourself an easy candidate to place last time.
You can only do this; however, if you stayed at least a year—or whatever their guarantee period is—in the position they got for you. Otherwise, their commission may be cancelled or reduced. They won’t appreciate you for that.
Don’t Just Rely on One Strategy
In most cases, it’s the recruiter or the headhunter who will find you, and not the other way around. You may get an email or call, which may seem random at first, but is actually the result of their highly-methodical way of sourcing candidates.
Don’t rely on recruiters or headhunters to conduct your job search, do your own share of the work. Use a wide variety of job search strategies, such as networking, going on informational interviews, sending and updating your resume, and attending job fairs. All of these strategies will complement each other and help you get hired faster.
Your Next Step
We've given you plenty of information about professional headhunters, job recruiters, and other hiring professionals. Now that you know what a headhunter is, you should be better prepared to work with them. Your next step is to make sure your career materials are current and then to begin networking. Good luck with your job search!