Headhunters or Recruiters…– Who are ‘The Good Guys’?

Are you job hunting?  …you are on the market, so to speak.  You posted your profile and resume on several job boards and you also spruiked up your LinkedIn profile in case they check you out. But, who are the Good Guys? Welcome to the murky waters of recruiting in Australia and New Zealand. I have some essential tips to help you to spot the Good Guys so you can actually make some informed decisions when you communicate with a recruiter.


I regularly receive feedback from my clients who are confused about the types of recruiters and how they operate and earn their money. This leads to guarded or inefficient communication and relationships between the candidate and the recruiter.  Recruiters play an important role in the job seeking and hiring landscape.  However, there are good and bad recruiters and unfortunately also an ever increasing number of rookies who enter the space and make it all a bit more difficult. This is really no different to any other industry out there. I believe the best way to deal with this is by having the necessary information.


Let’s start with the confusing recruiter lingo

– what exactly do these guys do?


1.Contingency Recruiter

A contingency recruiter works for a client company. The company pays the recruiter only when a hire (or placement) is made. A contingency recruiter typically specialises in a particular industry, or works in a particular geographic area.  A good contingency recruiter is usually well networked in their specialty, so if they don’t have an opportunity for you right away, work to make a good impression nonetheless.  They might come back to you when they hear of an opening in their space.

2. Retained Recruiter

Unlike a contingency recruiter, a retained recruiter is paid up front by the client company. This recruiter will have a solid relationship with the company.  They usually tend to present you with one potential job at a time.  They’re working with you because they think you are a strong candidate for the position, so work hard and efficiently when you are presented with an opportunity.

3. Contract Staffing Recruiter

A contract staffing recruiter hires “contractors” – candidates who work on an hourly basis (or on some other form of fixed rate) for a client company to complete a project.  The recruiter and the contractors tend to build strong relationships because the contractors know their relationships with the client will last for a limited or contractually set period of time. The client pays the recruiter based on the hours a contractor works.  The contractor turns in their time card each week to the recruiter and the recruiter pays the contractor their wages.

4. Outplacement Recruiter

An outplacement recruiter provides placement assistance to candidates who have been downsized or have been made redundant.  The fee for placement assistance is paid by the company that downsized the candidate. An outplacement recruiter also typically provides resume, interviewing, and career coaching assistance. These services are usually paid for by the company.

5. In-House Recruiter

An in-house recruiter works for one company and is part of that company’s HR team.  This is who you’ll most likely interface with if you are actively conducting your own career search.  Even if you connect directly with the Hiring Manager, you should keep the in-house recruiter in the loop.

6. Headhunter

“Headhunter” is an industry term for a third-party recruiter who seeks out candidates, often when normal recruitment efforts have failed. Headhunters are usually employed to fill senior management and executive level roles. Headhunters are also used to recruit very specialised individuals. For example, in some fields, such as emerging scientific research areas, there may only be a handful of top-level professionals who are active in the field. In this case, since there are so few qualified candidates, it makes more sense to directly recruit them one-by-one, rather than advertise internationally for candidates. A job seeker cannot hire a headhunter to find them a job – the headhunter always seeks out the candidate.


So now that you know the types, how do you spot the Good Guys?


Let’s start with headhunters (they hate this name by the way). There are many ‘headhunter’ types out there and recruiter categories 1 – 4 (above) often get thrown in the mix by both the clients and the candidates because they don’t understand who they actually deal with.  Many of these recruiting professionals are simply referred to as ‘headhunters’ and actually deliver a very valuable and professional service to both their clients and the candidates.  However, there is an ever increasing flow of new industry entrants with little or no qualifications and, through their unprofessional practices, they contribute to a decline of the industry’s reputation.

This situation is bad for the industry and I am hoping that sooner or later someone will follow the regular calls for some kind of government intervention to regulate and clean up the industry in Australia and New Zealand.

Many of my blog readers and clients, and an increasing number of general candidates, feel that these sorts of headhunters are bottom feeders that are scouring the internet and social media portals for resumes that can possibly lead them to a fee. It’s a numbers game for many in that the more candidates/jobseekers they speak to, the more likely they will make placements regardless of how good or bad a particular candidate may be.   However, there is a growing change in the industry with new recruiting solutions and alternative methods… more on that in my next blog.

Don’t be surprised if your encounter with these guys sounds like they are talking to you from a playbook, seeking  to gather some information (bare minimum) so they can grab and send your resume to wherever they think they can get a fee, and it won’t necessarily matter to them what you want or think.


My tip:  When you are contacted by a recruiting professional and it feels like you are speaking to a headhunter, you really want to feel like they are listening and responding to your feedback and you want some assurance that they are putting your best interests first, before their own. I always suggest to my clients to instruct these headhunters that they must contact you about a position prior to submitting your resume.  This gives you some control and it may be that you are already in contact with that company through a referral or your own job hunting work.

Okay, that’s some information on the bad side of headhunters. But, don’t forget that most of these guys are actually GOOD guys battling against the wave of bad feedback generated as a result of all these rookies and rogue practitioners who tarnish the industry.


So, how do you spot the better and/or excellent headhunters?


Good headhunters will actually take an interest in you, your career, your professional aspirations and be seriously interested in building a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Good Guys know that if they spend valuable time with you in an effort to get to know you, that not only might you become a placement fee, but because they went the extra mile, there is a strong likelihood that you will refer them to other people or clients in your private or professional network.

Remember, it’s all about networking and it’s not about who you know, but who wants to know you! (here I’m taking a punt at the LinkedIn junkies who believe 500+ connections and 100 endorsements is a ticket to a job)

So, do your part to be genuine, professional and remain organised throughout the contact and relationship with any recruiting professional. Also, try to remember that bad news travels much faster and greater distances than good news, so negative feedback or reputation takes ages to overcome, and good headhunters know that.


Also, when you are contacted by a headhunter you should always ensure that you get to meet them face-to-face in their office. Avoid meetings in cafes or restaurants or lobbies of large office buildings. Check them out and get an idea of their business. I guess you know what I am referring to. Making eye contact, shaking someone’s hand and seeing that they are a real professional with a professional establishment, versus just a voice on the phone, is far more comforting and allows you to feel confident about them representing you and your brand to prospective employers.


Finally let’s take a closer look at the internal recruiter


These are the guys that are employed by the company you are applying to. Basically, there are a lot of similarities to the types discussed above.  However, there are a number of questions you can ask yourself to differentiate between the good and bad internal recruiters.  Whilst many of these questions are good for any type of recruiter, they can be particularly telling in relation to internal recruiters who ‘should’ have a very high degree of familiarity with the company (after all, they work there).  For example:

  • Did the recruiter sound scripted or were they engaging on the phone?
  • Was the recruiter capable of explaining what the company does and what the responsibilities are of the job that you’re applying for?
  • Was the recruiter open to answering questions and were they capable of answering the majority of them in detail?
  • Was the recruiter able to give you a feel for the culture of the company?
  • Did the recruiter ask you meaningful questions that were to the point and relevant to the job and your experience?
  • Did the recruiter give you ample time to answer questions and ask questions without making you feel like they were doing you a favour?
  • Were they respectful?


I could go on and on, but I’ve tried to provide you with some good things to be aware of when working with recruiters either inside a company or outside. Not everything has to be warm and fuzzy, but you certainly want to know that the individual you are dealing with is focused on a win-win outcome for everyone, not just for themselves. After all, it’s only a good deal if it works for both of you, so steer away if it sounds too one sided.

You should never be made to feel like you are just another candidate.  If your contact with a recruiter makes you feel that way, then ask yourself if that really is the person or company you want to be working with?

Remember to be alert and to be organised  when you deal with these professionals. Like so many things in life, if it feels right then go ahead and establish a relationship. If it is rushed, cold, scripted or vague, then walk away as there is a good chance that you are just a name on a list or a result from a scripted online search result.

No matter how you are contacted and no matter which of these 6 recruiter types contact you, remember to hunt wisely!