6 Things A Headhunter Won’t Tell You – How it works

February 25, 2023

It’s funny how we try to impress headhunters to the best of our abilities, when they themselves have “dark secrets” they keep. We’re here to reveal how headhunters work, so that you’ll know how to work with them.

The truth is that even though it’s a lucrative career, many people aren’t exactly sure what a headhunter is. If you want to know what headhunters won’t tell you, keep reading.

How Headhunting Works

Headhunters get paid when they place candidates into open roles at hiring companies. For example, Microsoft could be looking for a new Senior Account Manager.

As a headhunter, I pitch to Microsoft, telling them that I have good experience hiring for Senior Account Manager positions for other companies in the field. I show them how these candidates I’ve hired for their competitors went on to do great things for them, exceeding their KPIs. Microsoft is impressed so they give me a hiring mandate to fill this Senior Account Manager role for them. That’s when my work really begins.

I post up a job ad, shortlist 5 of the best candidates, and present them to Microsoft, who then go on to interview these 5 applicants.

Wondering how headhunters get paid?

Well, if any one of the applicants I shortlisted get hired by Microsoft, I’ll receive 5% – 30% of the annual salary of the new hire as commission. If there’s no hire made, I don’t get paid anything.

Things Headhunters Won’t Tell You

It’s important as a jobseeker to understand that headhunters only get paid when we successfully place you in a job. Finding a headhunter who believes in your talent can be a massive boost to your job search.

As a Headhunter, I think LinkedIn is the #1 place to find good candidates. Most headhunters purchase premium LinkedIn accounts which cost between 30 – 500 SGD / month. LinkedIn is a goldmine for finding talent.

As a jobseeker, one should keep their LinkedIn account updated with all the keywords. Better yet, purchase a Premium account on Linkedin. It only costs 30 SGD/month and makes your profile far more visible to headhunters.

If you get that job, we get our fee. As a byproduct, we make some people very happy – both you and our client company – whose recommendations are great for continued operations.

In an ideal world, headhunting is a win-win. But we headhunters do have some secrets:

1. “I know nothing about the role I’m filling”

One cannot study headhunting like a professional job (accounting, engineering etc). There isn’t a standard set of rules or processes to follow. A headhunter does whatever it takes to fill the position. Often times, we have very little understanding of the role we’re filling.

Our clients, companies who are hiring, do judge us on the quality of the CVs we submit to them as part of our shortlist. As we have little knowledge of the role we’re filling, we only submit CVs which have all the keywords and are a close match to the job description.

If your CV isn’t well written or lacks the keywords, I’ll definitely reject you. I’m not an expert to know for sure if you are more qualified than the other candidates. My reputation is on the the line. I’m not going to take a risk. I’ll stick to candidates who seem like a great fit.

This is why it’s crucial that your CV matches the job you’re applying for very closely. If you’re not sure how, engage a professional CV writer.

2. “I don’t have time to read your CV”

I used to receive hundreds of CVs a day. Truthfully, I spent no more than 5 – 15 seconds on each resume. I’d always look for the key information, last company, job title, education – before making a decision on whether to shortlist the candidate or not.

Be sure to present your key information in an easy to read format. Stick to tried and tested Singapore resume templates.

Lastly, keep the fluff out of your CV. Lines like “Experienced director with track record for growing businesses by 30% YOY” will get my attention. Lines like “Well-rounded executive with passion for industry” will get your CV in the trash.

3. “I don’t shortlist sloppy candidates”

The candidate shortlist I present to my customers (the hiring company) are a reflection of me. Unless you’re a superstar CTO from Facebook, please be well mannered and punctual during our initial interview.

Sound enthusiastic and energetic. Treat the initial headhunter interview as seriously as you would the final round interview.

Our client, the hiring company, only requires one talented candidate to fill the open role. However, my goal is to impress them with several high quality options.

I’ve had one company tell me: “The 5 candidates you proposed were excellent. We’re going to make an offer to Candidate #2 and keep Candidate #1 as a backup. You really blew us away with the quality of the candidates. We’ll never ever again work with anyone else.”

Be a great candidate and I’ll be sure to shortlist you. For interview tips, read our article on how to ace your interview.

4. “I avoid hire candidates who don’t invest in themselves”

The employment market is in constant flux. 15 years ago, the job title “Head of Digital Marketing” didn’t exist. Today, it’s one of the most well paying positions in a company. Candidates need to keep up with the changing times.

Are you constant taking new courses? Reading books about innovative new companies? Are you subscribed to Harvard Business Review or McKinsey Quarterly?

If you want to get that senior role at the MNC, you’ve got to do all of the above. Your competitors are doing so. Don’t get left behind. Invest in yourself.

5. “Less than 1% of the people I speak to get a job offer”

It’s a volume game. The more candidates I speak to, the more selective I can be about my shortlist.

Singapore is amongst the most densely populated areas in the world. The labour market is insanely competitive. Second only to Hong Kong.

Play the numbers game. Speak to many headhunters. Don’t just rely on 1 to get you that job.

6. “I’m not a career counsellor”

Candidates often ask me why they got rejected. I always tell them I have no idea and to keep trying.

The truth? I know why you were rejected – the hiring manager told me. But it’s not my job to spend precious hours counselling you. I only get paid to fill empty positions with talented candidates.

If you’re looking for career advice, speak to your old bosses or hire a career counsellor. Don’t ask your headhunter.

Where to Find Headhunters?

Headhunters, despite their flaws, serve a very important role in the job market.

Understanding how they operate is the first step in outlining a strong strategy to get you that dream job.

And once you know how they work, you’re ready to reach out to them for help.

Get in touch with these top headhunters in Singapore, or consider using these popular recruitment agencies and executive search firms to give your job search a boost.

Here’s another tip – headhunters love LinkedIn. They’re constantly searching for candidates through LinkedIn.

So while you’re working on your CV, do consider update your LinkedIn profile too, so you’re always prepared when a great job opportunity arises.

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Harry Suresh
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