What Is Headhunting and How Is it Different From Recruiting?

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Today, more than 69% of companies in the US struggle to find the right talent for their vacant positions.

To find the solution to this persisting problem, companies across the country have shifted their focus on implementing effective recruiting and headhunting strategies. Many companies rely on recruiters and headhunters to help them find their ideal candidate to fill an open position.

If you are confused about the distinguishing features between recruiters and headhunters, you have come to the right place. The article explains what distinguishes recruiters and head hunters and the benefits of hiring the latter.

What Is Head Hunting?

The latest SHRM research found that a typical recruiting process may take 30 to 40 days. The waiting time is sometimes too long for companies to fill positions immediately. This is when they approach recruiters, external hiring managers, and headhunters.

But do they all refer to the same person? Well, the answer is no. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they have significant differences.


The diagram shows a standard format for recruiting people into the business. However, headhunting has a different role in the process.

Headhunters typically find talent on behalf of a hiring agency that firms and organizations outsource recruiting to fill particular positions. Usually, the open position a headhunting agency is looking to fill is urgent. Organizations count on headhunters to get help with urgent hiring needs.

According to Investopedia, many people refer to headhunters as executive recruiters, primarily since they perform the function of executive searching. Headhunters have a pool of talent for particular positions. They find the most suitable candidates by looking at competitors’ employees.

Often, headhunters have access to positions and roles that are not publicized on the platforms. However, not every headhunter is open to discussing their role.

When Do Companies Look for Headhunters?

Some research says that 67% of employers and recruiters believe that the hiring time to fill vacancies is shortened, and 52% think recruiting via external referrals lowers costs.

Headhunters are precise, quick, and proactive in the search as they receive a fee after a successful candidate placement. So, how exactly does this insight relate to working with a headhunter?

If your company has to make quick recruiting decisions with less effort, you likely have an open vacancy critical to your success. If you don’t fill in time, it will affect the performance and morale of your team and cost the company in the long run.

This is when your company can work with a headhunter to fill the urgent roles. The competent talent seekers have a pool of candidates. They find passive professionals with a knack for talent sourcing and persuade them to join your firm.

From a job seeker’s perspective, headhunters can access roles and positions that are not publicized via traditional mediums. So when a hired headhunter contacts candidates on a company’s behalf, they are more interested in the job. Credible headhunters are also valuable when a firm has already exhausted other resources.

As recruiting has become more tech-driven, candidates apply for positions from all directions. More than 75% of businesses rely on new technologies to find talent from online career sites, forums, social media platforms, and even YouTube.

Moreover, per the latest study of Global Workplace Analytics, half of the workforce in the US holds an employment opportunity compatible with partial telework. It allows recruiters and employers to consider hiring talent from anywhere in the world.

What Is a Recruiter? 

Did you know that more than 90% of organizations use staffing/recruiting agencies to fill open positions?

While a headhunter is responsible for finding qualified candidates, a recruiter has a job to fill positions. Companies that have open positions employ recruiters to find the candidates. Like headhunters, recruiters can be third-party firms with no affiliation with the hiring company.

Recruiters typically administer the entire hiring process to fill in the vacancies. They pre-screen candidates, facilitate the interviews, and generate reports on the hiring process. They are the main point of contact for prospective candidates inquiring about the position.

The course of action to hire the candidates varies from one recruiter to another. While many recruiters take a proactive approach to seeking out candidates, some like to post jobs and allow competent candidates to contact them first.

Recruiters work to find candidates for multiple positions and help filter applicants who are not qualified for a specific job. They shuffle the candidates and use them for other positions. Recruiters are usually a part of the human resource department and perform multiple human resource-based roles.

How Is Headhunting Different from Recruiting?

A typical job opening attracts 200 to 250 resumes per a Glassdoor surveyOut of these applications, 5 to 6 candidates are shortlisted for an interview, and only one gets the job. That means HR teams and employers need to pick fewer applicants to interview.

Both recruiter and headhunters put in their best to improve selecting the best applicants for the opening. Then, what makes them different?

The main difference between headhunting and recruiting is the way they work. While recruiters choose candidates from the list of active or interested job seekers, headhunters pursue professionals with relevant qualifications and experience required for a job position.

Headhunters often have the edge over recruiters as they pull candidates from the talent market, including passive job seekers. They focus on candidates looking for jobs via online boards and social networks. Approximately 70% of job seekers are passive talent and don’t look for opportunities proactively.

On the other hand, recruitment agencies or recruiters may have different approaches to finding candidates. They rely on standard procedures such as posting a job on a company’s portal or job-seeking forums.

It is worth mentioning that finding the right talent for open positions isn’t easy. Hiring headhunters saves you from investing time, effort, and resources to find the candidates.

Here is a breakdown of the critical differences between headhunters and recruitment agencies to help you understand what they offer to your company:

1. Type of Candidates

Headhunters and recruiters typically look for different types of talent. A recruitment firm looks for various positions for interested job seekers. On the contrary, headhunters typically focus on finding talent or employees not actively looking for new jobs.

Headhunters look for hard-to-find candidates who make an ideal fit for a particular role.

2. Process of Searching Candidates 

Headhunters handle the process of searching or matching applicants with job offers differently than many recruitment agencies. For instance, a recruiting firm typically places advertisements to find potential candidates. It is also a way to manage an extensive database for job seekers to pull qualified talent as opportunities come.

On the other hand, headhunters follow a different route to finding potential candidates. After receiving an order from a hiring company to fill a specific position, headhunters search the entire job market, including individuals who are not looking for jobs currently, to find the candidates at that time.

4. Types of Positions

Recruitment firms typically work with multiple organizations to fill their recruiting needs. They often look for applicants with broad skills and fill different positions as required. However, headhunters search for job seekers to fill in specific positions. Typically, they look for individuals who have highly specialized skills.

5. Types of Role 

Recruiters work with many companies and need to fill various roles. A headhunter searches for candidates for executive roles, specialized roles, and opportunities that are difficult to fill. That is why they usually find candidates for a small number of job positions at a time.

6. Quantity vs. Quality 

Note that a recruitment agency often needs to fill many roles for the hiring company or client. That is why it focuses on quantity more than quality. The average time a recruiter spends on each position is 6 to 7 seconds.

A recruiter may spend a small amount of time looking for candidates to fill each position to facilitate multiple clients at the same time.

Headhunters have a definite and focused role in finding the most qualified talent for a specific role. Finding that talent for the hiring company isn’t easy for headhunters. This is why a headhunter spends a long time on every job position and applicant to make sure they are the right match.

7. Commission

The hiring company pays the headhunters to fill a specific position. A recruitment agency typically works on a commission paid to the hiring company for successfully finding the right candidates.

Choosing a Recruitment Agency or Headhunter

If you’re considering working with a recruiter or headhunter, keep the differences above in mind. Though both headhunters and recruiters can help you find the candidates, you must clearly understand their roles.

Headhunting may also vary in terms of quality and assistance. However, reliable headhunters approach the candidates ahead of time to find a good fit for the role based on their experience and skills. They do proper homework on the candidates’ backgrounds before recommending them to the hiring company.

Also, a quality headhunter should be easy to communicate with and reach.

Hire a Recruiter or Headhunter Today

The war for hiring the best talent is heating up again in 2022. Firms, employers, and recruiting agencies have started looking for top talent with full force. That means finding the right talent has become more challenging.

While the ultimate goal of a recruiting agency and headhunter is pretty much the same, they perform the tasks to get the results is different.

To know more about which hiring model is best suited for your recruitment needs, get in touch with us at Recruiter.com today!


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