I find that the definition of what headhunting is has been watered down over the years and is now used in an almost generic way without an understanding of what it is and the weight that it carries. Sadly, this also means that candidates that are really headhunted are all too often not dealt with in the correct manner.

First though, let us begin by defining what headhunting is.


Headhunting is a direct sourcing methodology which stems from an approach widely used within Executive Search.

It is first and foremost a personalised approach that is made to the individual with a high degree of discretion where particular expertise—which the person has—is identified and contact is made in regards to a specific role.

It is not large campaign management, database mining or social networking, as you would see for example on LinkedIn connections. It is also crucial to understand that headhunting is, by default, an unsolicited approach of a potential candidate on behalf of a specific role/mandate.

This also means that the potential candidate:

  • has not asked to be contacted,
  • is usually not looking for a new opportunity
  • and needs to be wooed into starting a discussion.

With the above in mind, there are several points to consider.


Firstly, a truly headhunted candidate did not ask to be contacted about the job and is most likely only exploring the market if they agree to a conversation.

This means that all conversations with the candidate should be well-balanced: you should give the person as much information as they expect to receive. The candidate/potential candidate needs to be “sold” on the role.

Remember, they are not looking. You contacted them because they are suitable for the role.

If you want them, you need to be able to clearly explain why they should want to be part of your organisation and why your opportunity offers them more than the role they are currently in.


Secondly, it is important for a company to understand that the interview process for a headhunted candidate should not be the same as that of a direct applicant.

A candidate that has been wooed into a conversation should not be asked what their motivation for joining your company is, instead they should be told why they would want to join you.

It is also beneficial to show the candidate a heightened level of interest by ensuring that their first contact is with a senior member of the team, and that they are given as much time as they need to ask their questions and correctly assess the opportunity.

This is not to say that all candidates should not be offered this; however, with a truly headhunted candidate these elements will make or break the process in most cases.

Remember that the way you conduct your interview process is a direct reflection on your business, your brand and your ability to attract the top talent.

Headhunting is a very effective way of bringing the top professionals into your business; however, if misunderstood and poorly executed, it will backfire and turn the people you want away from your company.

So, next time your staffing partner tells you that they are presenting you with a headhunted candidate, take the time to understand what this means, where the candidate comes from, get a feel for the candidates situation and be prepared to woo them at every step of the way.

Head Hunting Explained