Just the facts about those pesky headhunters

Over the years I've gotten many emails asking about dealing with professional executive employment recruiters or They all boil down to two general questions: Why can't I get a headhunter to give me the time of day; or how can I get these blasted headhunters to leave me alone? A very nice and professional headhunter recently contacted me to talk about what he believed to be the many misperceptions

Over the years I've gotten many emails asking about dealing with professional executive employment recruiters or “headhunters.” They all boil down to two general questions: Why can't I get a headhunter to give me the time of day; or how can I get these blasted headhunters to leave me alone?

A very nice and professional headhunter recently contacted me to talk about what he believed to be the many misperceptions that project managers, estimators and other construction professionals have about his profession. I had only intended to give him five minutes of my time, but we ended up talking for more than an hour. Eventually I promised him that, considering how I've been dealing with his tribe almost my entire career, I'd write a column about the facts regarding headhunters.

First, headhunters almost always get paid on a commission-only basis. Unlike a lot of the commissioned salespeople and factory reps we deal with each day, headhunters usually don't get a draw against commission and are straight sell-or-perish, so it's in their interest to find the best candidate for a given job. If you've wanted a headhunter to help you find the next ladder up in your career and they won't give you the time of day, it's typically because they think your qualifications don't match what a paying client is requesting. It's up to you to get the qualifications that their clients currently are seeking or change the spin of your resume.

Second, more than 90% of the time, headhunters are competing with other search firms to help find candidates for the same job. A client normally doesn't pay one penny until a candidate is actually placed in a job, so like it or not, headhunters have to deal with numbers. They have to assemble a pool of more or less anonymous resumes and they don't have time to work individually with most folks who are looking to better themselves. After all, you didn't hire them to find a job for you; the client hired them to find a warm body to stick in a job slot. While headhunters are not your friends, they're also not your enemies because they need your cooperation and participation to help fill the open job.

Third, headhunters don't control the client's requirements on a job posting. If the client wants a Nobel laureate with a master's degree in 14th century Chinese literature to run his estimating department or sit in a job trailer all day long, that's his decision. Complaining that such requirements aren't relevant to the job won't change the fact that the clients, not you, control who gets hired.

Fourth, posting to large national resume Websites is basically a waste of time. Most employers hire search firms and potentially pay whopping five-figure commissions because they don't have the time or resources to sort through the morass of personal resumes buried on a Website. Recruiters use Google to ferret out resumes posted elsewhere on the Internet and specialized job boards to see if you have what their clients are seeking.

I also want to mention MEPjobs.com, one of our industry's best job placement Websites, which has been around forever. But I know from personal experience that a large percentage of people who actually are placed in jobs aren't found through the Internet, not even today. They're found through a daisy chain of personal referrals in which a worker might say, “Well, I'm not looking to change employers right now, but my friend John Smith is. Give him a call.”

The truth is, the best bet for finding a new or different job is to use your network of friends, past employers and salesmen. Salesmen are calling on your competitors all the time and they know who is hiring and who is downsizing. That being said, headhunters still have their place especially when you're looking to get out of Dodge and relocate and you don't have access to such a local network of contacts in other areas. They're also somewhat useful about trying to gauge salary and benefit ranges with other companies, so don't be shy about asking them for exactly what you want from them. They're certainly not shy about asking you for exactly what they want from you, whether it is a book-sized job list over your entire career or a salary history going all the way back to when you were a paper boy.

Oh, and how can you get persistent headhunters to leave you alone? Simply tell them you're not interested in dealing with them and ask them, nicely of course, to please go away — 99% of the time that'll do it.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating, and plumbing. You may contact him by telephone at 919-291-0878 or via email at [email protected].