Chief Executive Insights

The good and the bad of headhunting

Roxanne Calder

We refer to it as headhunting to add mystique and enchantment, but it really is executive search. Traditionally and in days prior to the excruciating boa constricting squeeze for talent, the big names (or heads), heavy hitters of industry were headhunted. These executives did not look for jobs. They were approached, not necessarily by an executive search consultant but by those in the know, an ex-colleague, a friend of a friend, their network or boy’s club in the day. 

Headhunting originated after World War Two when soldiers recommended other soldiers for specialised skills. They were also in the know. And the tribal association with headhunting: the idea of taking one’s soul and intellect, weakening an enemy’s tribe and asserting dominance, well, the sentiments, motivations and similarities are oddly acute. 

Headhunting has evolved. No longer reserved for industry elites, it occurs at every job level, and like each industry, there is the good and the bad! 

The good:

  1. They find the truffles.
    Our current employment landscape presents a monumental challenge. By 2030, it is estimated, there will be a
    global human talent shortage of more than 85 million. Equated to bottom line specifics, if left unchecked, could result in circa $8.5 trillion unrealised annual revenues (2). Executive search consultants proactively seek out the hard to source, truffle-like candidates. They map, target and approach the who’s who. Your time to fill is shortened, cost of empty seat reduced, and the process is far more efficient. 
  2. The black book of talent.
    Being industry or functional specific, they know the talent of your industry. They know their skills, ambitions, education, limitations and a million other details. They also know who is up and coming and who to keep an eye on. This is because their relationships run deep and are not transactional. A little like the boy’s club of old, they catch up regularly and with purpose. They place a high value on the relationship and thus their and your reputation. It is more likely you will have the complete picture of the individual for their skills and cultural fit. 
  3. No holds barred communication.
    If you are dealing with a consultant for your next role, you can and should tell them everything. This includes forthright conversations about salary. They are in the best position to know if your expectations are aligned with the market and are the ones to negotiate on your behalf. No one enjoys the awkward and uncomfortable dance of money, worth and value. The same can be said for employers. Your consultant will keep you informed of market trends, including salaries. Chameleon-like, they play a skilled and dual role of ambassador and cheerleader. 

The bad. 

  1. The costs.
    The recruitment costs and the costs of your new hire. Salaries are on the increase, and when going to market in today’s climate, you can bank on paying more than your previous incumbent’s salary. In addition, you may have to also pay a premium for candidate’s being approached and not actively seeking a new job. 
  2. Phishing or fishing.
    We transition from hunting to fishing. The spelling does not matter; the intention is the same. It is a spray and pray tactic, a numbers game, and if there is a catch, all the better. It is an unsophisticated approach, not based on being in the know, but a lotto draw approach. Sending bulk emails, connections, texts, including phone calls with little to no research on you or your background. There is likely no job, or if there is, it’s transactional. They are happy if they talk to any person who might be interested in looking for a job. 
  3. Confidentiality and reputation.
    With the scarcity of available talent, any candidate currently employed and interested in exploring other options is highly saleable. If you accept a headhunt approach, ensure it is a qualified call, i.e., there is a legitimate job. The job should be exclusive and not speculative, unless initially stated. You also need to provide explicit permission for your name or resume to be used or sent anywhere. In the wrong consultant’s hands, your resume may result in mass emails to various hiring managers. There is no discretion or prerogative to protect your reputation. Add the sensitivity of technological security, and you might be more vulnerable than you envision. 

Everyone needs to be in the know or on the radar of an expert consultant, the one who knows your field, industry, or job function. These consultants notice the signals, trends and developments. They often know what is next before their client base. While they need to be creative, lateral thinkers, sensitive (to both parties) and most importantly, credible and with high integrity, they are also visionary. In this forever changing world, they must see beyond the immediate to secure a long-standing success- for you.


Written by Roxanne Calder.
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Roxanne Calder
Roxanne Calder, the author of ‘Employable – 7 Attributes to Assuring Your Working Future’ (Major Street $29.95), is the founder and managing director of EST10 – one of Sydney’s most successful administration recruitment agencies. Roxanne is passionate about uncovering people’s potential and watching their careers soar.


Roxanne Calder is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.