Could you possibly write a post(s) about the optimal candidate – headhunter interaction. I am going to start my own job search, and it’s clear that outsourcing it completely to headhunter(s) is not an option. Correspondingly, I will have to contact literally hundreds of companies on my own, and I am not sure whether getting a headhunter involved as well is possible, even if I wanted to do so.
For instance, I won’t be able to answer the question to which companies I have already applied. There are too many of them, and oftentimes the contact is informal and it’s hard to say whether it counts as an application. On the other hand, I am not sure whether the headhunter really needs this information in the first place. For all I know, he/she is just trying to extend his network at my expense. How is it possible to combine my own search with that of a headhunter without clashes?
These are very important questions and I recommend this post to anyone who is either on the job market or gets approached by headhunters while employed.
There is no doubt that you should not outsource your search to third party recruiters without continuing to look on your own via as many sources of professional networking as possible. A headhunter that will ask that you only deal with one recruitment firm or limit your own efforts in any way is someone to stay away from immediately. I always tell candidates that networking is key to landing job opportunities and that they should view me as one of their many contacts that can lead to the perfect position. It is certainly possible that a headhunter could pitch you about a company or a position, which you have already pursued. However, such overlap is normal and can be expected. On the other hand, even though you might be reaching out to one individual within a certain company, a headhunter might have an established partnership with another contact within the same company and could be able to get you an interview where your own contact might have failed.
It has become almost an industry standard for headhunters to ask prospective candidates where they have applied. This question is laughable at best because, as you correctly pointed out, an active candidate will have applied to dozens (if not hundreds) of companies. You are also absolutely right when saying that a headhunter will more often than not use that information as means for lead generation. I had a boss that insisted that we gather such leads from candidates to then submit them to the sales team for immediate cold calling. During ad hoc shadowing of my interviews, I had no choice but try to pull the information out of my interviewees and ended up feeling unprofessional and pathetic.
Now, on to practical advice. There are very many amateurish headhunters and “mass production” recruitment firms. If you see a job ad that really interests you posted by a headhunter and you cannot figure out which hiring company it is for (by googling parts of the ad and seeing if the same job description pops up on a corporate site), then you should definitely send in your CV. Answer the headhunter’s question of where you have already applied exactly as you put it here: “I do a lot of informal networking and it is difficult to say what counts as an application”. If prompted to name companies where you have interviewed, say: “Job openings are often confidential and I am uncomfortable sharing such information without these companies’ consent”. As simple as that. If the individual continues to insist, counter with: “If you could share with me who your client is, I would be happy to confirm if I already interviewed there”.
There is another way a relationship with a headhunter might be useful to you and should not be avoided. When searching for headhunters in your area, read the recommendations on their LinkedIn pages. If you see a recommendation written by someone who works in a company that is of interest to you, reach out to the headhunter and ask if he or she would be interested in marketing your profile to that company. Chances are that they have a solid relationship with that client and might be successful in getting you an interview with them (even if only exploratory).
You also need to be selective. If a headhunter is not articulate on the phone, asks ridiculous questions or prompts for information you are uncomfortable divulging, do not deal with that individual. If he did not impress you, how impressive is he to the hiring manager at the client company? True professionals are not easy to find in this field (as unfortunate as that is), so read the recommendations on their LinkedIn, take a look at their profiles to see how well they are written and pay attention to how they sound on the phone. Never feel forced to align yourself with someone mediocre – you need a superstar in their field to represent the superstar in yours!