How Do Headhunters Find Candidates?

Candidates always ask us, “How did you find me?” So we created a two minute video to answer the question. We link to the video in all our email outreach messages. You can watch it below, but of course that only describes how the candidate research process works here at Staffing Advisors. Other search firms work differently.

From watching our video you can see that we cast a wide net in our approach, methodically working through business databases like Hoover’s, working through LinkedIn profiles, and checking out conferences to look for people who demonstrate expertise in certain areas. Most retained search firms have a dedicated candidate research team capable of doing this kind of candidate sourcing.

But in your job search, you also need to be aware of search firms who take a different approach. Some search firms rely on job board advertising to find candidates. Some firms comb through the resume databases from career sites like Monster, Careerbuilder and Indeed. Some firms rely on networking with people they already know, and call or send emails out to their networks inviting people to recommend candidates for searches.

So if you want to be considered for new opportunities, what should you do? Well, if you are openly and actively searching, go ahead and post your resume to the job board databases, and definitely apply to job postings from search firms. Even if you don’t see an active search matching your profile, you can often send a resume to search firms, simply  asking them to include you in their database. Almost every search firm will first look for candidates within their own candidate database.

If you are searching more confidentially, you should work on becoming more visible, particularly online.  Watch our video series on how to update your LinkedIn profile to increase your career visibility. But don’t stop at LinkedIn, here is another video on how to increase your online visibility.

No one strategy will make you visible to every search firm, and search firms vary widely in their approach to recruiting, but if you increase your ability to be found, you will always hear about more job opportunities.

Working with a Search Firm: Interview Etiquette

One of our most popular posts was on “How to Introduce Yourself to a Search Firm.” But what happens when you have already been contacted by a search firm and are going on an interview with one of their clients?

What is the etiquette for working with the search firm? What is expected of you? What can you expect from them?

Some firms may differ, but in general these are the expectations:

  • Before the Interview:  The search firm will give you the date, time and location of the interview, and usually parking information and/or the closest metro stop.  The search firm will usually give you the name and title of everyone you are expecting to meet, and how long the interview is expected to last (but of course good interviews often run overtime). Your role: Your job is to research the people and the company, and to write down at least a dozen intelligent questions you would like to ask. (Hint: “Do you have Dental insurance?” is not an intelligent question). To arrive to an interview without preparing questions in advance is a breach of etiquette and for many interviewers, is an automatic strikeout. If you cannot think of what to ask, simply ask your search firm contact for some ideas, or see our post on how to research a company.
  • Traveling to the Interview: Be sure you estimate your travel time properly and to bring the phone number for both the search firm, and the person you are meeting with.  Your role: Your role is to leave ample time for traffic and to arrive 10 minutes early. Late is simply unacceptable for a first impression. If you are going to be even one minute late, etiquette requires you to call ahead to the person you are going to meet, and to apologize again when you arrive. An astonishing number of interviews have been ruined by ignoring this simple point of etiquette. If you might be late, don’t hope for the best, just make the call at least ten minutes before your interview time. The benefit is that once you’ve made the call, you can relax. (You can always try calling the search firm as a backup plan, but bear in mind that they will likely be in another meeting and not available on short notice.)
  • During the Interview:  Your role is to give crisp, clear, concise answers to most questions.  On a first interview, the hiring manager usually has to cover a lot of ground, so don’t get bogged down in protracted answers in any one area. Practice your answers, so you can keep them to about 3 minutes or less.  (Read more about the STAR method of answering questions here). Your search consultant will be able to brief you on the kinds of topics that will be covered, but they really should not be coaching you on how to answer specific questions.
  • After the Interview: Most search firms want to hear from you right after the interview concludes. In my experience, candidates are rarely able to judge how it went, so typically we ask whether you are interested in proceeding to the next step if it is offered, and whether the hiring manager mentioned any next steps. Your role:  contact your search consultant immediately following the interview. Don’t make them call you to get feedback. Hiring managers always want to know your level of interest, and it’s embarrassing to your search consultant when they don’t know where you stand because you did not contact them. (Remember, we have no idea what time your interview actually  ended, so we can’t call you).
  • Delicate issues: As the third party in the conversation, your search consultant should be able to address any difficult questions for you. Do you need to see a copy of the company benefits? Do you want to find out what happened to a prior employee in this role? Are you concerned that it seems like the department has a lot of turnover? What kind of salary are they considering?  Your search consultant can look into these issues for you, or suggest how you might diplomatically raise these points with the hiring manager.

How to Introduce Yourself to a Search Firm

Most candidates begin their job search by updating their resume and then looking for a search firm who can help them make some connections.  And most people do a poor job on both of those tasks.   (Seriously.  Read our resume advice.)

But if you think writing your resume is hard, apparently it pales in comparison with finding a good search firm to help you.   For most job seekers, figuring out how to work with a search firm is simply a mystery – a big, high stakes, deeply personal mystery.

A few months ago, Vickie Elmer from The Washington Post interviewed me for an article on how to introduce yourself to a search firm.  I gave her my best advice, but because the question is so common, I wanted to dig a little deeper and show you other people’s answers to your most common questions.  So here is the list:

Perhaps search firms are (to borrow a phrase from Sir Winston Churchill)  “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”   If so, here is yet another helpful overview on the appropriate role of a headhunter in your job search.

Please leave a comment if we missed something or if you have more questions.


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