4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Saying ‘Yes’ to a Headhunter

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BoxBeing headhunted is one of the highest forms of flattery in the working world. It’s a clear indication of your quality and personal effectiveness.

Of course, everything comes at a price, and the price of being hot professional property seems to be an almost constant stream of emails and phone calls from recruiters. Unsurprisingly, a recent study from Glassdoor shows that just over half of candidates are growing tired of these messages from recruiters, and 47 percent of candidates are responding to recruiters’ emails at lower rates (44 percent are responding to recruiters’ phone calls at lower rates as well).

Every candidate should have an efficient system for evaluating headhunter activity so that they can sort the worthwhile opportunities from the dead-ends quickly and efficiently. This is why I thought it would be useful to outline four questions every candidates should ask themselves before saying “yes” to a headhunter.

1. Are You Engaged, Performing Well, and Feeling Challenged?

If you are engaged, performing well, and still feel that you are challenged at work, it’s likely that headhunters may not have much more to offer you. Of course, if a headhunter is dangling a position with your dream employer or a role with greater career potential, then you might take a more serious look. But in most circumstances, if you’re engaged, doing well, and feeling challenged, it’s best to just tune headhunters out.

2. Is Your Career on Schedule?

WatchYou should ideally have a career plan that gives you a rough timetable of how you would like your career to progress (e.g., in five years you want to be managing a team; in ten years, you want to be managing a business unit; etc.) Such a career plan puts you in a great position to make informed and forward-thinking decisions about whether to engage with any headhunters who approach you. If your career is on track, then you should probably say “no” to the headhunters — there’s probably no need to rock the boat and become distracted (unless, of course, the recruiter is dangling the opportunity of a lifetime, as mentioned above).

3. Can the Headhunter Tell You Why You Are a Good Fit for the Role?

If you do get to the point of hearing out your headhunter, it’s vital that you ask some qualifying questions very early on in the process. This will help you to see if you are part of a well-targeted, narrow search for a role, or whether the headhunter is just working their way down a long list of possible candidates.

A good question to ask to help qualify any opportunity offered by a headhunter is, “Why do you believe I am a good fit for the role?” If the headhunter is vague and can’t give specific answers or references skills that you don’t possess, that suggests the headhunter is not carrying out a very targeted search. There’s a good chance this opportunity will disintegrate somewhere down the line, after you have invested time and energy in it.

FishingSo, if the headhunter can’t tell you why you are a good fit for the role, they are likely on the kind of fishing expedition that you want to avoid. The best headhunters will be able to deliver a convincing pitch in answer to this question.

4. Is the Headhunter the Employer’s Exclusive Recruiter?

It is always worth asking whether the headhunter is working as an employer’s exclusive provider of recruiting services. If they aren’t, there is a chance that other recruiters could be working with the employer. The existence of other recruiters — all vying for a chance to fill the role — means you have a much lower chance of getting to the interview stage.

If the headhunter cannot confirm they are working exclusively with the employer, you’ll need to ask yourself if it’s worth the effort and distraction, given the increased risk of the opportunity not panning out. Why not wait for a better quality approach from a headhunter who is working exclusively? That situation is much more likely to lead to a solid return on your investment.

Of course, there’s no magic formula for deciding whether to say “yes” or “no” to a headhunter, but if your career and professional goals are being met, and the headhunter is offering a seemingly weak opportunity, it probably makes sense to politely decline the headhunter’s advances. If, on the other hand, you career starts to slip off track and you are presented with a great opportunity, then it may be the right to say “yes” and fully engage with the headhunter.

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.