By Ian R McAllister
One of the errors made in Executive Employment is handing out your Executive CV to everyone
who claims to be an Executive Headhunter. With some simple research and questioning could
easily reveal that they are a Recruiter or even less on the scale of employment sharks.
If you make this mistake, you will at best blight your Senior Executive Jobs opportunities, and at
worst extend your period of job seeking indefinitely. So, how do you tell an Executive
Headhunter from a Recruiter?
There are three types of basic paid-for animal that roam the employment market place:
Job agencies: the familiar High Street chains that place mostly temporary workers, in both
blue and white collar jobs. The job seeker is contracted and paid by the agency, with the
percentage varying between 5% and 15%, but always with a minimum. Hence in some minimum
wage blue collar jobs, the blue collar worker doing the actual work will be paid less than the
employment agency, thanks to minimum contract clauses
Recruitment agencies: focus on management and executive position. These are now mostly
sector focused, as job agencies have eaten away at the bottom end. Some recruiters run contract
teams who will have contracts similar to job agencies, but most will operate on permanent
position briefs. Job briefs may or may not be exclusive to that recruiter, who could be working in
competition. Percentages will vary from 12% to 35%+, with most working on a "paid on
success" basis over a "paid on process progression."
Executive Headhunters: will have a long term relationship with their clients, and although
they may not be exclusive to that client, will be exclusive on that job brief. Often paid a retainer
up front of between a third and half of their agreed fee, the final fee is between 30% and 200% of
first year salary plus bonus
There are variations which as a senior executive job seeker you need to be aware of. For
instance, many will have heard of CV fishing, why does it exist? One High Street agency still
runs a "paid on process" recruitment contract with its clients, which pays: 1/3 on engagement,
1/3 on CV delivery (minimum of 12); 1/3 post interview. Hence, as 2/3rds of their fee is paid just
for placing 12 CV's on the desk of their client employer, their staff have a huge incentive to CV
Though paid by their employer client, it is in the interests of the Executive headhunter to serve
both the employer client as well as the Senior Executive Jobs seeker. Reputation is key to the
Executive Headhunter, and they don't like damaging their reputation in their core market place
with anyone. As this reputation in market is hard won, and the fees paid know to be high, often
many internal recruiters will claim to be headhunters. They are not, as headhunters are
independent of the employer client and only work on a retained payment brief: this person
calling you is trying to fill an internal position. Further, as headhunters only work from
employer client briefs, anyone who offers to find you a job is not a headhunter: that is a job
coach you are talking to!
Executive Headhunter v Recruiter!
Now that you know the basic difference between Headhunters and Recruiters, you are part
armed to test the difference of anyone's claim. For instance, try these questions:
How long has this organisation been a client
How many briefs have they had from this client before/how many people placed - a
headhunters number may be low, but percentage placed will be high; the recruiters will be
What is their brief for this job - a headhunter could now complete a 30minute speech, where
as a recruiter will only have a job specification
How many job applicants/CV's will they put forward - a headhunter will pace 2 or 3 people
per brief maximum in front of a client; a recruiter will place 3 or more
When does the client want a person in place - headhunters will focus on the right candidate;
recruiters will say "now" or "soon"
Competitive brief recruiters and internal pay systems mean that however they found you, they
can't spend time meeting job seekers to properly vet candidates as a headhunter would. So use
time and process to tell the difference. When their contractual process payments asks for a pile
of so many CV's, getting your CV adds fresh meat to the pile for their client, and hence prompt
So, when they ask for your Executive CV, offer them your LinkedIn profile. If they press, offer to
meet them for a coffee. Headhunters will at this point probably ask more questions and be happy
to meet serious Senior Executive Jobs seekers; competitive brief recruiters do not have the time
to meet, and hence at this point close the conversation.
But the most telling difference between a headhunter and a recruiter is asking them the question
of how/when will they get paid. Some job seekers feel that this question is too arrogant and up
front. I understand that, but both want to engage with people they can place who have realistic
expectations of what that job in their market will pay.
Secondly, much as though money may not be a daily conversation for you, pay and package is in
the world of employment.
But thirdly and most tellingly, if they are asking your pay or package requirements, then
knowing what and when they get paid equates to motivation. The amount is not necessarily the
answer you want, it's the when which is the telling truth: exclusive brief head hunters get paid a
percentage of fee up front; competitive brief recruiters get paid after the successful job seekers
The more they get paid the sooner in the process - and before they call you - the more likely they
are to be a headhunter. The sooner you can tell the difference between an Executive Headhunter
and a recruiter, the sooner you know your Executive job search will be more successful.
There is no harm in engaging with a recruiter, and many Executive job seekers successfully do.
There are many good and great recruiters working on many different client briefs, and hence
payment plans. But knowing who you are talking to and how they are briefed/paid will enable
you to assess how successful your job search is likely to be fulfilled by pursuing that path - and
that is the real gain here to a successful Executive job search.