How To Hire A Headhunter

July 11, 2022

how to hire a headhunter

A headhunter is a recruitment specialist, working for an agency or independent company. A headhunter has the skills to identify top talent and place individuals into highly specialized and highly skilled roles on behalf of clients with vacant positions.

Headhunters are most often used for filling higher-level, executive positions within a company or organization. These tend to be roles that are not advertised through the standard channels, so only those who are singled out as strong candidates are made aware of the opportunity.

Headhunters often specialize within a specific industry, so they can build an effective network and become accustomed to the talent landscape within their specialist area.

This article will cover the responsibilities of a headhunter, the skills and abilities needed to be a successful headhunter, and the pre-employment testing that should be used within your hiring process to ensure you select the best candidate for your vacant specialist recruitment position.

What should a headhunter be able to do?

how to hire a headhunter

A headhunter is required to shortlist talent for the vacant positions their clients are trying to fill. They first need to know the particulars of the role, so they will meet with the client to discuss their needs and the job contract being offered.

Once they have a good understanding of the vacancy, a headhunter's task is to source potential candidates that meet the requirements. This stage of the process involves leveraging existing networks, looking through referrals, researching individuals holding similar high-level positions, attending networking events, utilizing social media and searching through private databases.

They'll need to screen individuals according to the job criteria to find the best matches. A headhunter is always seeking the top talent within the given sector and role - talent the client will be impressed with.

The headhunter's next task is to reach out to potential candidates. They need to convey the responsibilities and merits of the job opportunity concisely and in an engaging manner, to pique interest and convince their identified contact not just that they'd be a good fit for the role - but that the role would be an excellent fit for them.

The headhunter will also interview the candidate, so that they can accurately compare the top talent they have identified.

A headhunter is then responsible for creating a shortlist for the client. This will be carefully compiled after conducting the initial interviews with the candidates and conducting reference and background checks (where applicable).

Depending on the client, the headhunter may also be involved in the final interview round and/or contract negotiations and onboarding.

Skills to look for in a headhunter

To be an effective headhunter, your candidates will need to possess particular key skills. When recruiting, look for the following talents, as a headhunter will be required to regularly use these in their role:

Oral Communication: headhunters need good communication skills to converse with clients and potential candidates. They must be able to listen carefully to the client's needs, so that they can find the most suitable candidate for the role.

Headhunters also need to convey the benefits of a job role to their identified talent, explaining the position and its responsibilities clearly and concisely. To sell the role to potential applicants they believe are well-suited, good presentation skills and a persuasive manner come in handy.

Organization: headhunters need to work to tight deadlines to rapidly fill vacant high-level positions for clients. Organization and speed go hand in hand - if a candidate for a headhunting position is highly organized with their daily tasks, they are much more likely to be able to deliver fast and accurate results.

Written Communication: headhunters may be required to write up job briefs and recruitment packs to provide to their identified talent. This will need to be well written, comprehensive and persuasive to convince an executive-level professional to change jobs and tackle a new challenge.

Software Skills: if you use certain software, you may require your headhunters to be familiar with the specific tools you use - such as a particular type of applicant tracking software (ATS) or candidate relationship management (CRM) software.

At a minimum, headhunters will need to be technology literate and able to use Microsoft programs - such as Outlook, Word and Excel - effectively.

Attention to Detail: to secure the best talent for the roles they are responsible for filling, a headhunter must fully understand all the details of the role, the company (including its values and culture), and the specifics of the job contract.

Headhunters also need to carefully screen candidates to determine if they truly meet the outlined criteria. To source the highest quality candidates, they will need a mind for detail.

Useful abilities for a headhunter

As well as key skills, headhunters need to have certain abilities to be successful in their role. Here are the top abilities you should look for when recruiting a headhunter:

Problem-solving: finding the right employee to fill a vacant specialized role is like looking for the missing piece of a puzzle. Headhunters need to have a good problem-solving ability as their clients will approach them with a set of needs they'll be required to fulfill. They need to be practical and think critically about how to best mobilize their network of contacts to fill each vacant position.

Social Perceptiveness: headhunters are effectively in sales - selling new job opportunities to individuals who may already be in a comfortable position. To sell the opportunity - and to know when someone is interested and/or worth pursuing - a headhunter needs to be socially perceptive and able to read individuals and their reactions to determine whether they could be the sought-after candidate.

Flexibility: if the individuals a headhunter has in mind for a role don't turn out to be viable options - either because on closer inspection they do not fully meet the job specification or because they are uninterested in the opportunity at this time - the headhunter will need to be able to quickly leverage further contacts to identify new candidates.

Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a headhunter?

When recruiting a headhunter, it is important to know that the candidates you're considering can fulfill the responsibilities of the role. Pre-employment testing can provide insight into the soft skills within your candidate pool, assisting you in making effective and efficient hiring decisions.

Consider requiring headhunters to sit the following soft skills tests within your recruitment process:

Communication: as discussed, a headhunter requires excellent communication skills to be effective in their role. They must speak with clarity and confidence as well as be polite and empathetic, and tailor their approach to the individual they are trying to entice to a new role.

A communication skills test assesses both oral and written communication, as well as taking into account non-verbal communication (such as body language and tone).

Time Management: a headhunter needs to work to strict deadlines to meet their clients' needs. To work efficiently, time management skills are vital. A time management test gives insight into the ability to prioritize, organize and deliver timely results.

Interpersonal: this skills test assesses the ability to communicate and interact, giving an idea of a candidate's social abilities and whether they can apply these effectively in the workplace. The test is made up of a series of hypothetical scenarios and the candidate is asked to select the most (or least) effective response from a list of answer options.

The test explores a candidate's level of emotional awareness and empathy, and also gives insight into conflict resolution skills - useful qualities to have in any line of work.

Adaptability: headhunters need to be able to adjust to any changing requirements and parameters, coming up with new candidate options. An adaptability test explores how well a candidate can problem-solve under pressure.

During the test, the prospective headhunter will be presented with a series of scenarios and required to select which course of action most closely resembles their own. Through these questions, the test provides insight into a candidate's flexibility and versatility.

Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a headhunter?


Testing for soft skills alone will not provide the full picture needed to accurately judge a candidate's potential. To gain key insight, pre-employment testing should also cover technical skills and aptitude. When hiring a headhunter, we recommend setting the following tests:

Error Checking:a headhunter needs an eye for detail - regarding clients' requirements and potential applicants' skills and abilities. An error checking test is a good way of assessing attention to detail, as it involves comparing two or more given datasets to identify discrepancies.

Logical Reasoning: a headhunter needs to be able to think through the recruitment challenges they are presented with laterally and logically, whilst under time pressure from clients. During a logical reasoning test, prospective headhunters are presented with patterns made up of shapes and symbols.

They'll need to identify the rule governing the pattern and select the next figure in the sequence from a set of answer options. This exercise gives insight into practicality, useful to determine whether a candidate has the logic needed to approach daily tasks.

Verbal Reasoning: we know by now that headhunters need top-notch communication skills. A verbal reasoning test assesses the ability to read, analyze and interpret passages of text. Candidates will need to read the paragraphs and indicate whether related statements are 'true', 'false', or if they 'cannot say' given the information shared.

To ensure the individual you hire will thrive as a headhunter, we suggest that the following tests should be incorporated into your recruitment process. At a minimum, include the following:

Interpersonal Skills Test: candidates have to answer a series of situational judgement questions, which are designed to measure how well they can communicate and collaborate with others. They have to select the most and least effective action they would take in response to a given scenario.

Logical Reasoning Test: headhunting is problem-solving with a recruitment lens. Headhunters need to mobilize their networks to find the best candidate for each client's vacant role - aka the solution to the client's needs. A logical reasoning test ensures headhunting candidates are practical individuals, up to the challenge of solving recruitment problems rapidly and to great effect.

Verbal Reasoning Test: headhunters must be strong communicators - and be able to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts and settings to build a rapport with new clients and with prospective candidates. A verbal reasoning test is an effective way of assessing a headhunter's ability to process new information.

View our series of job knowledge tests to find out more about adding aptitude and ability testing to your hiring process:

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