What is a headhunter?

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What is the difference between an employment agency and a headhunter or a search company? The conditions that describe the people and businesses that make a living helping job seekers find jobs can be perplexing. Before diving into when and how to use an employment service or headhunter to your job hunt, first, you need to understand who is who and who does what in the area of employment recruiting.


The conventional employment agency helps job seekers in finding work. Some companies charge the job seeker, so make certain to clarify, up front, if there’s a fee. Others are covered by the employer. Typically, I wouldn’t advise using an agency which charges the job seeker.


Search firms can be business specific (i.e. banking or retail) or ability specific (i.e. accounting or information technology).  There is a big scene for executive recruitment in Melbourne, Australia as an example.


Contingency Employment Agency: A contingency service is compensated when their candidate is hired by the employer. These kinds of firms are normally used for low and mid-level searches and they frequently send a high number of resumes to the company.

Retained Search Firm: A retained search firm has an exclusive relationship with the company. Search firms are usually hired for senior-level hunts, and for a particular period of time to discover a candidate to fill a job. They’re paid costs, plus a portion of the worker’s salary, no matter whether the candidate is hired.

The recruiter/headhunter/search adviser (the terms are used interchangeably) is the person that you will actually work with in your job search. You may be approached by a headhunter seeking to recruit you to apply for a new job working for a company she/he represents. Alternately, you might send your resume to a recruiter or apply for a position that a headhunter is attempting to fill.