Dark-Art of HeadHunting?

A Dark Art? Not really. True Head-Hunters will typically have approaching 20 years commercial experience, often far more.  Their knowledge base of high-performance individuals and key leaders is typically immense and when married to an ability to map, research and approach unknown individuals in target organisations becomes a compelling skill.

True and effective Head-Hunters are great networkers. Their ability to gain multi-stage referrals and recommendations is often their most effective resource – those providing the referrals being acutely aware to the benefit of being on a Head-Hunter’s radar for their own future career advancement.



If only Head-Hunting were as simple as it looks. The people who are paid to fill Britain’s boardrooms insist that finding the best man or woman for the job is much more than a casual flick of the Rolodex these days. Research, and plenty of it, is the name of the game — even if to the outside world it seems the same old names are linked to vacancies in the upper echelons of corporate life.

Often very specific mandates will mean you are choosing from a pool that is relatively finite. You can try to stretch the envelope, but companies don’t always want to do that. Luckily more and more will, in the quest for outstanding professionals and even more so, to find the genuine stars and leaders of tomorrow.

Most targets will be unaware a search is ongoing. Initial contact is comparatively brief to ascertain interest – suitability usually established prior to first contact – such is the power of research.  But suitability is often not overtly obvious, direct sector experience as an example often being of minimal importance. Relevant Investor/structure exposure often being more valid.

Dozens of approaches will ultimately elicit a list of potential individuals. A “Universal list” of target organisations will become a “Long-List” of suitable individuals.  This can mean spending up to four weeks uncovering everyone in a sector or adjacent sector, or other targeted organisation who might be suitable.

Every mandate, and every methodology is bespoke and always begins with a blank sheet of paper and a brain storming session – regardless of how recent and how similar other mandates have been concluded.

The research stage of a Head-Hunt involves plenty of detective work but also dips into the firm’s corporate contact base, in my case, one of over 10,000 professionals and executives.

The Internet does play a part nowadays. Using Social Media sites for research, information collation and often information validation (with inherent risks to the ‘virtual loose-lipped’) as well as business sites to locate publications, commentaries and even YouTube for speeches given. This gives a very candid take on what individuals are really like, rather than how they act in front of a Head-Hunter.

The whole process will ultimately elicit an interview list.

One recent project to locate a Main-Board, Group Sales & Marketing Director for a consumer goods business saw us contact in excess of 200 people, not necessarily to interest them in the post but simply to find out who in the industry they rated highly. From that exercise over 40 people were formally interviewed.

The interview list will more typically number 20-30 candidates, all of whom will have been verified and ranked on their level of interest and suitability.

Crucially, the client company will review the interview list and comment on specific individuals for good or bad reasons.

At the end of the interview process, the best 4-6 candidates will then be presented to the Client with comprehensive verbal description, discussion and questioning.

At this point the client company will conduct it’s own interviews, through anything from two to five meetings before an offer is made. The whole process typically takes a long time – the industry average is 24 weeks – although due to the strength of our network, we can guarantee most roles’ successful conclusion in just 8 weeks (or offer a 100% cash refund)

In the majority of situations a significant number of the shortlisted individuals was known to the Head-Hunter prior to the process, in one context or any other, and often known through at least reputation by the recruiting, client executive.

Such a network is the lifeblood of the headhunting industry, which must identify candidates it thinks will fit a company’s culture, however impressive their CVs.

It is an exhaustive process, but then it should be because nothing is more important than the people you are bringing into your organisation. It is a lot more than Box-Ticking. We see it as so important that we guarantee all placements with a 12 months free-replacement guarantee

The Head-Hunting industry was worth $18 billion globally in 2013, according to the Association of Executive Search Consultants, after a lull since it’s previous peak in 2009 of $17bn. The financial crisis of a few years ago has led to pent-up demand for Head-Hunters’ services, as directors who may have been on the point of retiring decided to stay on to help their companies through the storm. This is now proving to be an accelerant into the search market as we hit 2014.

Head-Hunting away from the Board-Room

In an increasing difficult market, where strong talent is scarce but managing without key people is business critical, more and more businesses are turning to Head-Hunters to deliver more junior appointments. With delivery guarantees and cost benefits, we have successfully delivered on appointments as junior as £50,000.

8 Comments on “Dark-Art of HeadHunting?”

  1. Great highly enlightening piece, people have no idea there is so much to proper head-hunting.

    Well done, very insightful

    Max M.

  2. Really enjoyed reading that Gary. A great piece. I get so wound up by people claiming to be headhunters that don’t get it and just rely on advertising and a database. Lazy Recruitment.

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