“How to be a good headhunter” is one of the terms that directs most of the traffic to this blog. Here comes my posting about how to be successful in recruitment, based on more than 20 years experience in this industry and after having trained, coached or interviewed hundreds of recruiters and executive search consultants from all over the world.

Markets may be slightly different from country to country yet the characteristics that make you a good headhunter in Las Vegas also work in London or in Singapore.

Here is my quintessential list on how to be a good headhunter in any market or economic cycle:

  1. Give and get love and be good to the people around you: When I ask Consultants why they chose a job in recruitment, the answer is always the same: “The people! The contact with many different people, the networking is what interests me most”. My best advice is: do exactly that. Call and meet people in your core business and core market, talk to them and understand what makes them tick and how you can create value. Do it once. Do it again and again and again. If you have – and show – a genuine interest in the people in around you, if you respect them, keep in touch and hold your promises, you have everything it takes to be successful in this business
  2. Look for a) similarities and b) inconsistencies: Our job is basic and the recruitment part turns around two major analogies: finding similarities between your job and the candidate (company culture, industry, languages, university, values, etc). This is what is called “matching”. Yet we also have to observe and control the quality of what we do: some candidates are lying to us. The “safety net” I use is what I call the ‘Lieutnant Columbo technique’: in one episode, Columbo says “I always ask the same questions – but I often get different answers”. Make this technique yours by asking the same question again and again throughout the process. If the answers are inconsistent (usually on the last salary or the reasons for leaving), this can be an indication that the candidate is not telling the truth
  3. Control your business or your business will control you: Surprises are a mostly good for a kid’s birthday party – and mostly nasty in (our) business. Make sure you are in the driving seat and be the one fixing the interviews, asking feedback – and making the offer. Our services are very costly. Make sure your service proposition is top-notch. Don’t leave a doubt. Do not ask your client “This is what I suggest. Is that OK for you?” but “Thanks, got it. Here is what we’re gonna do…”
  4. Work close to the money: Our priorities can change many times during the day. One call from a customer inviting us for an urgent visit to discuss a job opening, one email from a candidate refusing a job last minute will change how we spend our day. ‘Close to the money’ is probably the best indicator that will tell you if you work on a) the right things and b) in the right order. Ask yourself constantly “What am I doing right now and will this get me a bonus?” Think in a binary way: “yes” is “yes”; “no” is “no”; and “maybe, have to think about it” – is “no”
  5. Create a sense of urgency: Time kills all deals. Always. I met too many recruiters who were reluctant to set deadlines to their candidates or clients. Yet: we are paid to deliver a result – and time kills all deals, or did I already say this? Always go for a close. Explain why (“Mary, my candidate is very committed but there are other jobs around. We do not want to lose her, do we?”). Whatever date your client suggests, shorten the process. When your client says “I can see your candidate Friday PM”, answer “Great, and what about Thursday AM?”
  6. Do the maths: When I managed several destinations in the past, I had to rely heavily on stats. And I learned that stats can also work for an individual career planning (or bonus planning if you prefer). There are ratios behind everything: If I know I need to chase/ make 25 contacts to get 1 client visit and 10 client visits to get 1 assignment, what will happen if I do 50 calls instead of 25? Etc etc. Analyse your activities and if you increase everything by 10%, your bonus should increase by 10% too…
  7. Bonus tip: Don’t overcomplicate the business: Peter Drucker says: “Successful leaders don’t ask ‘What do I want to do?’ They ask, ‘What needs to be done?’”. Make this approach yours, do not ask yourself too many questions but do what has to be done to get the money in. Stop procrastination, stop to find excuses why this particular (unpleasant) task is not possible right now and do what needs to be done to get a client and a candidate and bring them together


After all, the question how to be a good headhunter is not so difficult to answer: Manage your priorities right, be the toughest manager you ever met towards yourself, be good and don’t forget that this job is not rocket science and the bonus will come in almost by itself!