How to unearth highly competent headhunters - Guest Comment

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If you’re trying to move into a new job, a recruiter or headhunter can be a great ally. On the other hand, dealing with a recruiter can be very frustrating. The biggest complaints I hear from candidates are about the lack of recruiter feedback – particularly if they’ve gone all the way to second or third round interviews and then get dropped.

This is understandably frustrating. However, you need to remember that the recruiter is not running your search. You are.

Basing your job search around one entity or one key individual is flawed thinking. It will not deliver a good result.

Instead of relying on a recruiter or even a few recruiters to do the legwork for you, in this market you need to spread your search far and wide. At least 80% of your time should be dedicated to developing and nurturing your own contacts (former colleagues, client contacts wherever possible).

In contrast, only 20% of your time should be spent nurturing recruiters.

This structure means the first six months of your job search are critical. During these months, you need to be building your network.

When you do use recruiters, you need to remember that they are busy professional people who are working in a very challenging market. Recruiters are just as busy as lawyers or accountants. However, unlike lawyers or accountants, financial services recruiters will typically only get paid upon completion - rather than for their time. This will lead them to focus very intensely on the candidates who can earn them a fee.

When you’re communicating with recruiters, the three critical success factors to bear in mind are as follows:

1. Rapport

2. Clarity of the message you give him/her – can you give a clear portrait of where you are?

3. Establishing a plan of action – how will you agree to collaborate and communicate with him/her?

1. Rapport Building

Wherever possible, ask colleagues for referrals to recruiters that they know and enjoy working with. Using their referrals is one way to get a warm start to the dialogue. If you cannot find any warm leads, a positive call in is a useful way to start. Headhunters usually are alert to people who cold call well and tend to give them an audience. Phoning is always better than email.

You also want your recruiter to build a rapport with you: are they open and honest to you in return when you start your conversation?

2. Clarity of message

This part is A 1 critical on both sides. Where are you in your career search? What are you looking for? Which products do you specialise in? Which clients have you worked with? Headhunters run complex databases which code every aspect of your career. This is all very useful if you are looking to make a straight move from one firm to another, harder if you are keen to move from fund manager to a product specialist or similar.

If possible, you need to summarise in 5 bullet points your skills, achievements and a little about yourself - what makes you distinct ?

When you’re evaluating a recruiter, you need to look at whether they can explain a bit about their business and their own area of expertise ? Do they sound pragmatic and straightforward ? Are they commercial?

3. Content

Conversely, you can evaluate a recruiter’s aptitude by considering whether he or she asks you good questions about your own career. Do they sound as if they have a good sense of the market? Can they give you good insights?

4. Establishing a clear plan of action

Ideally, you want a headhunter to dedicate 30 minutes to meeting you. In reality, this may be a struggle and at most, you may get a call and an email exchange. Either way - try and establish a plan with the recruiter and arrange for regular follow-up.

Finally, when you’ve built your initial rapport, communicated a clear message and established a plan of action, it’s worth reinforcing your relationship with your chosen headhunter by doing something for them. In an industry which was once described to me by a Queen Headhunter in the US as “dependent on the kindness of strangers,“ who can resist that?

Sarah Dudney is a City career coach at Ignite Career. You can get in touch with her at, or through

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