Understanding Recruiters, Headhunters and Agents

Linda Lupatkin, Career Counselor, Coach and Consultant

Unless you’re actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Yankees baseball star Alex Rodriguez or maybe The Donald, chances are you’ll be making your next career move without the aid of an agent. But recruiters (also known as headhunters) may be helpful.

Here’s the difference. Agents do all of the work for you. Typically they represent high priced talent and earn their pay when that talent inks a deal, usually a percent of  the compensation package the agent has negotiated.

Recruiters on the other hand are hired by companies to locate talent. Since recruiters are paid by the company, the recruiter is looking out for the company’s best interest. What that means is, recruiters are looking for the perfect candidate for their client, not a close match, but an exact fit.

Oftentimes recruiters will target their client company’s competitor. Why? Because a recruiter is being paid to find a prospect the company would not be able to find on its own, which is why recruiters prefer prospects who are employed, over those who are actively seeking a job. If you’re a perfect fit for one of their client companies, the recruiter will be your best friend.

But what happens when you’re not an exact fit,  if you want to change industries or even roles, in those cases a recruiter is not the place to turn. That’s when you need to be more active and aggressive in your job search, employing different strategies including networking and finding creative ways to target and approach companies in which you’re interested.

Although recruiters do prefer their candidates to be employed, they can be helpful if you’re unemployed, so don’t discount them completely. But you shouldn’t rely solely on recruiters to help you get your next position. They are just one avenue on a successful career search road map.

Working with a career coach can help you navigate that road map, by learning your goals and helping direct you so you can meet them.  In addition to search strategies, coaching will make you the best that you can be so you can ace those interviews with recruiters, headhunters and future employers.

Since most of us will never be in the position to have an agent that means running a robust job search campaign using all of the tools available to you, including recruiters or headhunters and of course, an expert career coach.