A Day in the Life of a Headhunter

by Darrell W. Gurney, CPC, JCTC, RScP

A favorite lesson from the classics of cinema can be found in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. At one point, Uncle Atticus tells his young daughter, Scout, that she will get along better in life by learning one simple trick: You only really understand people when you consider things from their point of view – when you get into their skin and walk around in it. Similarly, to best understand and appreciate the value of “relationship maintenance,” it is helpful to have a feel for what goes on in a headhunter’s typical day. So, let’s explore the nature of the beast you are courting — or being courted by.Recruiters organize their days in various ways, all centering around certain basic activities. A headhunter, you might say, manages the flow of several pipelines, which must stay full, alive, and vibrant if the business is to be successful. With any of these pipelines out of commission, the headhunter is out of commission — and, consequently, earns no commission. A recruiter focuses on balancing these activities and increasing the flow in each of the following pipelines:

    1. Searches: Searches are the lifeblood of a recruiting organization. Without specific positions to fill, the headhunter is out of business. Therefore, a major thrust for a recruiter is continually obtaining searches through all manner of marketing, cold calls to potential clients, existing client account servicing, referrals, and advertising.
    2. Candidates: Of course, without qualified and appropriate professionals to fill those openings, a headhunter is headless. So, recruiters constantly and vigorously pursue all avenues to add heads to their storehouse of possibly placeable professionals. Whether a candidate is sourced (obtained) indirectly through a Web site, newspaper ad, or referral, or directly through that always exciting cold-call to an unsuspecting professional, a successful headhunter is unceasingly managing a flow of contacts, relationships, and resumes of viable candidates.
    3. Send Outs: It’s great (and essential) to have an ongoing flow in the first two pipelines, but if they are not coming together as Send Outs, you’re looking at one inefficient, ineffective recruiter. Send Outs are exactly that: sending out a viable candidate on a viable search. The initial hurdles of the placement process have now been cleared:
      1. A company has found a presented candidate interesting enough to interview
      2. A candidate has found a presented employment opportunity interesting enough to interview for
      3. A recruiter, who has done all the presenting, has established a specific time and place for the interview (The ultimate matchmaking, yes?)
    4. Placements: Placements are what a headhunter’s life is all about. We enjoy developing relationships, having fun, living our daily lives, but we are in the business of, and stay in business only by, making placements. In a perfect world, placements are those magical moments when, as in dating, everything clicks so well with both parties that two pieces of the puzzle snap right into place. Unlike marriage, the candidate and company are not committed to spending their lives with one another, yet they are definitely going steady. Unfortunately, the placement process is not always so “magical” and requires the experienced mediation, management, communication, and even arm-chair-psychologist skills of a recruiter — not to mention sales ability. Making placements and closing deals is a headhunter’s all-encompassing pipeline activity.

[Note: it takes a greater volume in the first pipelines to result in any volume in the last. Because of the sieve effect of the first three pipelines (Searches, Candidates, Send Outs), there must be much more activity in them to net any Placement activity.]An added dimension to this process is the cumulative effect of recruiter “networking.” Headhunters can’t always rely on their own storehouse of heads/clients to provide either the right candidate for a particular search or the right search for a particular candidate, so they often work deals with each other. Just as real-estate agents split commissions on home sales when representing buyers and sellers, headhunters split placement fees. For example, if I provide a candidate whom another recruiter can place, or vice versa, we split the fee, 50/50. This type of networking occurs both on the inside, within small or large recruiting firms (where headhunters in the same company split deals), as well as on the outside, between independent and separate recruiting firms. Quite simply, a recruiter’s pipeline management is not based solely on personal activity (obtaining searches, finding qualified candidates, and arranging Send Outs), but is exponentially increased by the amount of networking in which the recruiter engages.This process may all sound foreboding and requiring an Act of God to have a placement occur. The truth is that they occur all the time. Considering the management-, professional-, or salary-levels of searches a headhunter engages in, he or she can place anywhere from two to six individuals a month. Yet for two to six solid placements to materialize from that intricate network of leaking pipelines, an enormous amount of “substance” must continually be going through the system. A successful recruiter’s office, you would think, must be a literal hub of activity, a huge transfer facility, so as to direct enough substance into these pipelines. You are right! So, next time you call into a recruiting firm to chew some fat about yourself, remember that you just dialed Grand Central Station!It is important for you, the candidate, to understand this movement within a recruiting organization to determine how to best position yourself to utilize this resource. Understanding the flow that a headhunter is attempting to manage daily allows you, to a certain degree, to step into the headhunter’s shoes and walk around a bit. Between the ongoing activities of a recruiter fishing for searches, sorting through resumes, hunting new heads, arranging interviews, and consulting/counseling both clients and candidates in this important decision-making process — most of which takes place on the phone — you want to slip in as smoothly as possible.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Excerpted from Headhunters Revealed! Career Secrets for Choosing and Using Professional Recruiters. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any manner without prior written consent from Hunter Arts Publishing. Darrell W. Gurney, Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC), Certified Job and Transition Coach (JCTC), and Licensed Spiritual Counselor (RScP), is Principal of A Permanent Success National Career Coaching & Search Partners and author of Headhunters Revealed! Career Secrets for Choosing and Using Professional Recruiters ($14.95, Softcover), available online at or by calling 1-877-4-HEADHUNT. Headhunters Revealed! received the Clarion Award for Best Book from the Association for Women in Communications, has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly and the American Library Association’s Booklist, and has been featured in nationally syndicated career columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy’s “Careers Now.” Sign up for a FREE monthly subscription to The Career Secrets™ Newsletter. Gurney can be reached at CareerMeister@CareerSecrets.com. Copyright Hunter Arts Publishing.

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