The Benefits of Using Headhunters

The imagery is unmistakable: an aboriginal cannibal on the prowl for his next meal. When we use the term "headhunter," this, for many people, is the conjured image. But this term, in common business usage , is also a not-so-affectionate nickname for the executive search professional. But truly, executive search professionals are more accurately described as "matchmakers."

Why would an organization turn to an executive search firm as opposed to using the experienced in house human resources staff? There are a number of services and philosophies that an executive search professional brings by way of his or her expertise in the recruiting field and his or her specialization in a given industry.

1. Hiring the right key person is too important to leave to chance. Search firms are best when they are utilized for finding the most key employees in an organization. The organization with the strongest executives is usually best poised for a competitive market environment. In any case, it is clear that people are the most important resource of any organization, and the executives and significant technicians are those who will likely make or break the organization's success.

2. Search firms can reach candidates not currently in the job market. Normal recruitment strategies really target those who are in the job market or who are nearing the edge of the market. Traditional advertising, even extended to the Internet, reaches only those who are looking for new employment. Executive search firms work to find those who are already happy and successful in their current jobs–people who usually are not reading the want ads, trade journals or online job search services.

3. Search firms can operate confidentially. Many times, an organization may not want to disclose their search publicly for strategic or competitive reasons. Search firms can operate confidentially and behind the scenes in these case, using existing networks of professionals to find executive talent.

4. Executive hiring mistakes are expensive. Traditional recruiting is based on a short job description and limited advertising resources. Often hiring mistakes are due to miscommunication about job expectations or requirements. Search firms remove this guesswork from the equation by better identifying a job and its requirements early in the recruiting process.

5. The executive search process casts a wider and more precise net. Generalist human resources professionals are well equipped to handle more routine and general recruiting needs. But in an executive or highly technical recruiting, the specialized nature of executive search firms allows better pinpointing of resources to specific recruiting techniques and in expanding the recruiting network beyond the typical marketplace of a given organization.

6. References are likely to be more reliable. Recruiters who simply check the references given them by candidates will simply hear the best about that candidate. After all, would a candidate list a critic as a reference? But recruiters use their professional network to get the straight story on a candidate from reliable and usually more realistic sources. And references are usually more likely to be honest with a professional recruiter than with someone who will be the candidate's employer and could at some point inadvertently disclose their sources.

7. Search firms assist also with the offer and negotiation process. Typically, in house human resources professionals are not as well acquainted with the employment market for specialized staff and executives because they deal with relatively few of them in any one organization. Search consultants are better able to stay in touch with the market and offer advice to the client about the compensation and benefits offered by competitors.


Executive search firms fill a critical need in the recruiting process for executives and technical specialists. While their services are often not inexpensive, the benefits of their services to an organization generally outweigh the costs by several fold for those critical executive and technical staffs. A future article will address the executive search process and what a consultant will provide to an organization under an executive search contract.