Headhunting VS Recruiting: Which Do You Need?

All headhunters are recruiters, but not all recruiters are headhunters.


There has always been some confusion between the difference about what Headhunting vs a recruiter actually does. Though both terms essentially result in the hiring of someone new, each has their own unique differences. Question is, which is the right one for your organisation and for the desired appointment outcome?


There are different solutions and tactics when it comes to talent acquisition & choosing the correct search strategy is vital to not only the candidate attraction elements but equally to the success of the appointed candidate. Some methodologies / attraction solutions are designed  to find the best candidates possible,  others to find a good fit but not necessarily the best there are others target passive candidates others active candidates.


Truth is, if you’re genuinely looking to hire you will be looking for the right person regardless, however whether they need to come from your vertical often depends on the nature of the role in question. If vertical or competitor knowledge is key to the success of the person, then you should consider a headhunting / search route over a general recruiting option which is more so for active job seekers and/or job boards or job advertisements. 


What does a general Recruitment Agency do?


A Recruitment Agency will help you to find, attract, screen, recruit, hire, and onboarding employees. It includes everything from identifying a job opening to filling it. It is the most commonplace process of filling in a job, and a lot of professionals have been placed through a Recruitment Agency many times in their career but often more at the start of their career journey than when they reach a seniority level – as that’s when an Executive Search Consultancy’ will provide more value.


A huge part of any Recruitment Agencies attraction model is usually hinged on job boards, Job advertisements or social media postings. In partnership with HR, the recruitment and onboarding of new employees are usually handled by an external party unless the organisation has its own Talent Acquisition team. Over the past years, there’s been a rise in internal recruitment teams, however in most cases they will often not have the reach or time that a fully focused external Recruitment Agency or indeed an Executive Search / Headhunting team embedded within their niche will have.


Always look within before hiring externally


We would always encourage our clients to make the best use of the internal resources they have before entertaining hiring externally. However there are many cases by which a client requires outside influence, knowledge or exposure which an internal transferred employee will not have.


There are a number of similarities between the methods both parties use, however internal teams when recruiting for their own business will seldom be able to approach as directly as external parties who offer a buffer between the parties. Here are a few of the routes to market:


  • Direct Advertising
  • Internal Talent pool databases
  • Internal Promotions
  • The use of a Recruitment Agency
  • The use of an Executive Search / Headhunting practice 
  • Employee Referrals 
  • Job boards


You Need a General Recruitment Agency When…


Brixton Group reported that from their point of view the state of hiring in the 2022 job market is banked very much on an urgency to recruit having suffered many delays due to economic and financial concerns. In this case they chose a Recruitment Agency for a critical hire, they had a number of individuals to consider but were not confident in the selection and in the end did not hire. Thinking that it was simply circumstantial they then offered out the role to 3x Recruitment Agencies on a  ‘Contingent’ basis with each of the aforementioned Agencies presenting 3x profiles on average.


After 3-4 days, with a further 9x candidates to consider you would imagine that this would present amble choice and a hire would be made. However those candidates were broadly ‘ok’ but none blew the client away and thus after careful consideration the role was then given out to a ‘Search Practice’ to run a comprehensive deep dive into the marketplace, in the pursuit of the right individual. The role was of greater importance for anything else. Ifyour company values speed over anything else, then the Agency route may be viable however accuracy & quality are of the utmost importance, a Headhunt / Search Practice closely aligned to your niche is often the better option.


What is Headhunting

A headhunter is someone who is a lot more thorough in their process. Yes they run searches for people to fill positions just like any other recruiter. However the process is a lot more detailed and the recruiters running the search are often more experienced than ‘Recruitment Agency’ farms. 


In this sense they are sometimes referred to as Executive Recruit­ers or Executive Search Consultants. 


More often than not Headhunters work in close proximity to certain niche sectors or verticals and have developed a name for themselves and many contacts over the years. As such, whilst they may have an active bench of candidates for specific positions or may go through unconventional ways to acquire talent; they are proactive by nature. They should know your vertical inside out, they will monitor key movers and shakers and keep a close eye on competitors. Employers tend to brief headhunters when the role is of key importance, requires in-depth sector knowledge or they need to fill in a high stake appointment.


In the past ‘Headhunting / Executive Search’ was a preserved service for only senior level / C-suite roles. However over the past decade and a half, Headhunting services have been utilised in more and more Middle to senior level or critical hire appointments successfully.


Headhunting is often a Research-Driven methodology

Headhunting is the art of attracting truly the best within the industry, not simply the most visible. Headhunters are hired for their expertise in conducting market research, their professionalism & ability to motivate senior individuals to look outside of their current employer and thus to move to another. They strategically help companies to understand the value that the right talent brings and the advantages to their clients’ growth.


Strong Search businesses like Resilient Management are equipped with the right tools that enable them to develop complex Market Maps and to conduct competitor analysis that enables them to offer a service and solution to their clients that far exceeds a typical recruitment agency offering due to their Vertical Market experience & expertise.


Getting it Right The First Time, Every Time

The right headhunter will take their time to find the best candidate in the market. Poorly managing any recruitment strategy can lead to 6 months of wasted energy, a loss of market share not to mention a high employee turnover, which often results in significant costs also for companies. A high turnover rate doesn’t necessarily indicate poor performance; in many cases it may be due to a mismatch between job requirements and applicant skills, it may come down to a lack of vertical knowledge or perhaps how they were on-boarded to the business / role. An executive search practice will be focused on making the right appointment, ensuring that the on-boarding experience is first class whilst equally paying attention to ensuring their integration and success.


Attract, Capture and Transform 

Great Headhunters who have mastered the art of attracting the most valued talents are rare and unique, however there are many that proclaim to be true Executive Search professionals and charge a premium but often rely on the traditional methodologies. If you want to truly partner with a great Search Professional, you need to identify a business / consultant that is not focused on simply covering a role with candidates in the hope that one sticks. Instead you need to find the consultant is more than willing to say no to candidates until such time that they have satisfied their own curiosity and that they are confident in their selection – whether that means they need to consider 200 or 600 headhunted candidates for the role. For these experts, talent acquisition is providing the best value for both the employer and the candidate. Therefore, headhunters enable strategic company transformations, one successful appointment at a time. 


Consider the Role You’re Recruiting For

Recruitment Agencies are often selected for entry level roles, and they will typically turn around a handful of candidate submissions by day 3. However in such a short time frame it is very unlikely that they will make use of market maps or have time for vertical market specific headhunting. 


However, if you’re recruiting for unique and/or niche-specific roles, you may want to consider outsourcing your recruitment to a more detailed headhunter / search practice who specialise in talent acquisition within your niche. 


Looking for Headhunters or Recruiters? 

No two roles are the same. In this article, we have tried to expose the differences between a typical Recruitment Agency and a Headhunting boutique / Search Practice. We have established that general agencies have a quicker turnaround but that often their results are seldom as accurate. When reviewing the roles that you need to fill, you should carefully decide upfront which strategy you require and it often comes down to how critical the role itself is.


Resilient Management, a Professional Market Intelligence Search & Selection practice with deep roots in the Fintech & Asset / Automotive Finance Industry, will find you the best people with complete transparency whilst presenting your brand professionally.