Be a good target…how to get yourself headhunted

by K B , updated on April 10, 2010

Headhunters’ secrets on how to get headhunted!

“Where did you get my name?” If you receive a call from nowhere from a head-hunter, you’ll always ask this question. But you won’t get any real answer – from a professional head-hunter at least. They’ll never reveal their sources, or even discuss the job with you on the first phone call.

So what’s with all the mystery? Keeping things secret to make you feel specially selected is part of head-hunters tool box of techniques to lure you out from your office to meet them for an informal first coffee or chat.

So how do people get headhunted? Is there anything you can do to hit the radar? The good news is, yes indeed. The better news is here are a few ideas on how.

Be visible

A former colleague of mine has been head-hunted twice. He made an effort to be visible and social. He’d go to forums, lunchtime seminars or conferences in his industry and simply talk to people. When he wanted to be serious about his job search, he’d target the seminars that recruitment consultants had sponsored. His favourite tactic was to make sure his name, title and organisation were on all of the attendance lists of events. Many head-hunters scan these for contacts.

Give out your card freely

This same friend also swapped his cards freely at functions. Like any good networker he followed the networking maxim, if you give something out it may come back in a different way. When he received calls from one head-hunter about a role, if he wasn’t interested, he’d try to provide another person’s name. (Some from the cards he’d collected at events). That way he’d made a future ally of someone professionally useful in the long term.

Be well a well rounded professional

There is more to it than just being out there. Head-hunters will target you if you are well rounded in your career. The head-hunters I know seek people who have developed themselves and contributed to their industry. As starting points they may search the web for people who’ve published, spoken at conferences , perhaps volunteered their professional skills or even set up a blog.


This one’s cruel I know and particularly unfair if you are out of a job. But I do know for a fact that you are a far more attractive target for a head-hunter if you are working. It’s partly psychological, from a sense that if you’re not working, there’s a reason for it, even though everyone knows good people out of work from time to time. It’s also partly a suspicion that you may be desperate, you’ll take anything. You are therefore not as desirable as someone who wouldn’t. Think of it as a bit like dating!

Put yourself online, but be aware of your presence

Whatever you put online is in the public domain. Many employers routinely check Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and the like. They know it’s wrong. They know there’s a legal minefield attached to potential discrimination issues, but they do it. What this means for you is that you need to manage your professional persona even on social networking sites. If you want to be searchable, keep your profile open. But keep it clean and keep it interesting.

Also be aware that many of the comments you put on these sites, go further than the sites themselves. Your comments can end up in Google searches, so do a vanity search and keep a regular eye on your profile and what your friends may post.

Many of the head-hunters I’ve spoken to say to Google your name and keep Googling. Put yourself in the mind of an employer who is digging for dirt.

Say yes

If a head-hunter asks you out for coffee say yes, even if you are not really interested. You’ll gather useful information about salaries and information in your industry and you’ll stay on their radar for other likely roles.

Don’t get too carried away with all the excitement

Again like dating there’s a dynamic here that starts with you being pursued. You feel desirable. You feel flattered. You forget to ask questions. But this is the stage that you should be asking all the questions you need to help you decide on the job.

You’re in a secure position in these early stages. You don’t have to move. So you can afford to be a little relaxed. Your part in this chase is actually to be “difficult to move.” You are instantly better at negotiation when you don’t have anything to lose.

Remember who’s paying

The client is paying the head-hunter to get you across the line.

The more professional head-hunter is making sure you’re the right fit and will answer all your questions. But there is still a lot of money at stake for the head-hunter. So that has to cloud any true objectivity. The fees they charge the client are enormous. And even though they may be paid a retainer for the search (which is supposed to eliminate the “sales” aspect), they will receive a hefty success fee at the end.

Some of the better head-hunters I’ve had dealings with, suggest you do your own due diligence on the role and the company, separate of what they say. Take notice of this. That’s a warning, directly from them, about them.

Act in good faith

I know I’ve said be aware of your value in this process. You need to. But don’t be unprofessional. Good head-hunters will start asking questions early about your salary expectations, package content and super. They will keep confirming this along the way. They are trying to present a realistic position to their client. While they are doing this, you should be doing your own research on the role, so you can establish all its worth to you.

Once you have agreement on salary and all the perks, unless something dramatically changes in the role, then that’s it. You’ll do yourself no favours if you suddenly up a salary demand at the last minute when an offer is on the table. Many people up the ante when they know that they’re wanted and the last in the race. However you will make the head-hunter look unprofessional to the client and you’ll look manipulative to the employer. If you’re still fortunate enough to be offered the role despite this, you start a role on the wrong note.

What’s the difference between a head-hunter and a recruitment consultant?

Professional head-hunters say they’re different from someone who’ll call you at your desk and launch into a conversation.  A professional head-hunter will arrange to meet you at a time of your convenience. They will answer all your questions readily and if they don’t know the answer, they’ll quickly find out.  

You can tell the professionalism of a head-hunter by the quality of the questions they ask you, the closeness of their relationship with their client and that they will always make themselves available to talk through your concerns.

They will be discreet, interested in you, establish mutual interest before divulging the name of the client and not just talk to you about the job over the phone

And as I said at the start, a professional head-hunter will never tell you how they first found your name. One other reason is this. It could be too bizarre. I once helped a head-hunter source a senior manager for an accounting firm. He was listed on a website as the captain of the company’s touch football team. There was absolutely no way this manager would have agreed to a coffee with the head-hunter, if he knew how he we found his name!

If you’d like to be head-huntable, you may need to ramp up your online profile. Email or call Karalyn on 0439 595 687 to find out how.

For more information on resumes, read this:

Why a career objective on your resume is important
Watch out for these resume red flags
How long should a resume be?
Seven things you don’t know I know from reading your resume
Don’t make these top 10 resume mistakes


Do you make one of these top 5 insanely dumb mistakes on LinkedIn? Click on this link , and we’ll send you our FREE report, PLUS some awesome tips to help you lure recruiters and employers to your LinkedIn profile.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Teresa Balakrishnan March 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Hi Karyn

There is a spelling mistake n the first paragraph’Head Hunte’

I have found the information very insightful and has led me to re-examine my resume

thanks 🙂

Karalyn March 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Arrrgh!!! Let me practice what I preach about perfect spelling and grammar and fix this up straight away….Best of luck with your job search.

daniel March 3, 2010 at 12:16 am

You also routinely mispell your name 😉 It’s spelt Karylyn. Hehe, hey i’m only kidding don’t gimme that look!

daniel March 3, 2010 at 12:18 am

Technically you may have got me with ‘gimme’ in which case i will correct it myself to spare you the smugness! *give me.

You’ve made me paranoid about my spelling 😉

(I bet your the type of person who is very irritated by emoticons) 😉

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