So, what actually is the difference between a Recruiting and a Headhunting?

We are often asked, “What is the difference between a Recruiter and a Headhunter”?

To fully understand the difference, it is important to first understand the different roles they play in the job market and why.

Standard contingency recruitment and Headhunting are both important functions, however, suited to different situations.


Reactive v Proactive


Contingency recruitment will usually adopt a “reactive” search strategy. Advertising across online job boards, company websites, social media and a candidate database; engaging with active job seekers.  A contingency assignment’s success can, therefore, be dependent, on applications coming from these sourcing channels. This can happen quickly however, for a senior or, candidate-scarce position, likely, it may not happen at all.

Also known as Search; headhunting is a specialist recruitment service which takes the chance out of candidate attraction. Usually working ‘under the radar’, it is a specific and targeted recruit and more about quality than quantity. It entails a focused search, for a particular role where the skill set is likely to mean that the pool of suitable candidates is limited.

Headhunting has traditionally targeted senior roles: executives and board members. These tend to be specialist, business-critical roles; hard to find through a regular recruiting process and often after a company’s direct sourcing methods have also proved unsuccessful.

80% of mid-level vacancies can usually be dealt with by the company’s resources or through a standard recruitment agency. Headhunting adds value to and complements a company’s talent acquisition and development team and is concentrated on the 20% that require very specific skills or are hard to fill.


Research – the foundation of any search.


As well as operating in a consultative partnership, headhunting is very much bespoke and research-driven, identifying passive, high-quality candidates and then screening and assessing them for fit to ensure they can be successful in the new role.

This research will also produce, for the client, real-time information on remuneration packages and how their brand or company is perceived by the potential candidates.

Outside of board-level appointments, headhunters tend to find candidates for positions which:

• Require a highly unique, technical or hard-to-find skill set.
• Are revenue-generating or business-critical.
• Are confidential (perhaps a present employee is being replaced).
• Are simply hard to fill.
• When a client has exhausted their own internal or routine recruiting channels.

Our research team has, recently, undertaken over 100 assignments ranging from C-suite and Director level to highly specialist scientific and technical roles. Our rigorous research and search process delivered 100% success. It can be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack but, by starting each bespoke search with “where could these skills be found” and then forensically mapping the market, we identify and engage with candidates who we perceive have the required skills and then thoroughly assess and screen them for ‘fit’, to produce a shortlist for our clients.

Timescales may vary; in one instance we were approached by a client who had just 2 weeks to secure an acceptable customer solution to secure a £23million contract. The client had been advised that they risked being ‘in breach’ and their contract was at ‘risk’. Only a small number of candidates in the UK had the skills and relationships to avert this. Within a very short timescale, we had identified and engaged a candidate on an interim basis and thus the contract was secured.

In another instance, we took over a Director-level assignment on which another search firm had worked for 11 months. It is possible, that this search firm, having carried out a basic search within the first couple of weeks, had just been waiting for the right candidate to apply to the advert on their website. This did not meet the client’s needs. Within 5 weeks delivered a shortlist of 5 screened and assessed senior international candidates to our client and following their interview process a successful offer was made.


Better solutions produce better results


When working on an Executive Search assignment, we work on a retained basis, at a similar fee structure to a standard recruitment company. As a boutique consultancy, we do not have the overheads that some have. Retained is not a risk; it allows for a bespoke, transparent recruitment process where there is no place for the scattergun or a ‘first past the post’ approach.

“I believe that research is the foundation of any search. We create better solutions that produce better results for our clients, which makes us and them more successful in the long run.

The talent is out there – you just need to know where to look!”