How to deal with a Headhunter Let's begin with a hypothetical illustration of the protocol involved in playing the career game in order to win. A friend, who mentioned getting a phone call from a headhunter, referred you to that individual. Somewhat surprised, you receive a call a week later from the same headhunter. You're not too sure what to expect or how to proceed. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when receiving such a call. Discuss the Opportunity with an Open Mind Generally speaking, headhunters respect the time of busy professionals. They know that "time is money"; so they typically get to the point when they make contact with prospective candidates. It's appropriate to ask, "How did you get my name?" But don't be offended if the headhunter doesn't divulge an actual referral source. The answer will probably be evasive: "Someone who knows you well, and thinks highly of your work, referred you confidentially." Leave it at that. Before launching into a spiel about the opportunity, the executive recruiter will spend some time establishing rapport and getting to know you as a person. After all, his obligation is to present to his clients candidates who fit a certain profile, which includes a good personality match. During an initial conversation, the headhunter needs to determine how qualified you are for the opportunity, how genuinely interested you are in the position, and what "salary ball park" you are in, realistically speaking. The headhunter recognizes that, more than likely, you are not actively looking to make a move. Therefore, he must sell you on the opportunity. The best way to do that is by discussing the position in terms of what contributes to your long-term professional advancement. In other words, he will ask probing questions such as these: • "Of all of your accomplishments, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?" • What additional challenges do you seek as you advance in your career?" • "In considering a new position, what level of authority and responsibility would be most appealing?" • "How open are you to the prospect of relocating? Where would you consider relocating, if necessary?" • "Describe the 'golden opportunity' for you." • "Are you subject to a counter-offer?" Asking questions like these allows the headhunter to determine what your "hot buttons" are, thus enabling him to discus the opportunity in terms that specifically relate to your career needs and interests. In other words, if it's to be a "marriage made in heaven," then it's important for you-the prospective new hire-to be excited during the "courtship" period. Communicate and Cooperate Fully The headhunting game is not easy. Otherwise, clients would not pay generous placement fees for executive recruiters to do what they do best: source prime candidates from competitor companies for hiring consideration. What makes the task easier, and much more enjoyable, is open and honest communication between the candidates, headhunter and client. In a very real sense, the headhunter is an occupational matchmaker. His job is to bring people together for what might turn out to be a good, long-term relationship. To accomplish this, the executive recruiter must be able to count on your cooperation and frequent communication. For instance, he expects you to honor time set aside for telephone and on-site interviewing. It is considered a serious faux pas to cancel set interview times. This is a bad reflection on the headhunter as well as the candidate. After the interview, it's important to provide timely feedback to the headhunter, ideally within 24 hours after the interview. He needs to know what you thought of the opportunity, any further questions or possible objections, whether you expect-and want-a job offer, and what your availability is in terms of starting in the new position. Armed with this information, he can better represent your interests in following up with the client. Another important point regarding communication needs to be underscored. If there is any significant change in your job search, don't hesitate to inform your headhunter. For instance, if you are interviewing on your own and are close to getting a job offer, let your headhunter know exactly what's happening. That spares him the embarrassment of going to bat for you regarding a position that you more than likely would turn down, if offered. No self-respecting recruiter wants to find himself in that position. So take the initiative in keeping the lines of communication open and honest at all times. Follow the Process to Conclusion Lastly, be aboveboard when discussing any issue that would hinder a placement from occurring. Is your spouse or significant other equally excited about the opportunity-or are they having second thoughts? Are you subject to a counter-offer from your current employer? Are there other considerations that need to be addressed before a pending offer is made and accepted? Remember, your headhunter is your trusted advocate in job-hunting. Like an attorney representing you, he doesn't like any surprises to pop up along the way. If his client is interested in hiring you but you feel it's not the right job, discuss the reasons why. Perhaps the headhunter can negotiate a more lucrative salary offer or sign-on bonus, a more flexible start time, or other inducements to get you to come on board. Even though clients pay headhunters for their recruitment expertise, responsible recruiters are committed to bringing the placement process to a favorable conclusion for all concerned. Whether you accept or reject an offer, it should be for the right reason. Any reputable headhunter will not strong-arm you into accepting an offer that won't sustain your long-term interest. Instead, he will keep you in mind for more appropriate opportunities down the line. In all, it pays to listen to a recruiter's phone call and follow through in investigating exceptional opportunities that you might not know about otherwise. All parties stand to benefit in the end.