Looking for a higher paying job to transfer your career into the next level? You’ll probably find yourself working with a headhunter. But who are these headhunters and how can they help you find your dream career?

How to Work with Headhunters to Find a High Paying Job

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We’ll explain who headhunters are and how they work. We’ll give you tips on how to best gain the attention of a headhunter and effective strategies to help land a high paying job.


In order to maximize your use of headhunters, it’s helpful to understand who they are and how they operate. This guarantees you take full advantage of the assistance they can provide you and it prevents you from, on the other hand, expecting too much from them.

Headhunters are essentially a type of recruiter, often referred to as third-party recruiters. Therefore, they help an organization find a candidate for a specific role – acting as the middleman.

Headhunters differ from typical recruiters in the sense that they are often executive search firms, specializing in mid- and high-level jobs. Headhunters don’t typically deal with graduate or entry-level roles. They are essential for finding high paying jobs, as research shows as many as 60% of jobs go unadvertised and instead are only known by headhunters.

Furthermore, there are three different types of headhunters. The difference between these types mainly relates to the salary they receive.

  • Contingency headhunters: Search for the candidates on behalf of the organization and the headhunter will be paid only when the position is successfully filled.
  • Retainer headhunters: Search and often screen the candidates, with the organizations having exclusive contacts with specific headhunting agencies. Commission can be similar in terms of the final payable to contingency headhunters, but the payment is not typically dependent on the position being filled.
  • Hybrid agency: There are a number of headhunting agencies using a hybrid model, under which part of the fee is paid upfront, with the rest being contingent on the filling of the position.

As a candidate, you should know headhunters are always paid by their client, which is the organization looking to hire. This means the loyalty of the agency is on the client and not necessarily on you as the candidate.

This can mean headhunters aren’t interested in providing any type of career counseling and other such advice for you.

In addition, this can mean the recruiter goes for standard candidates, who match the job description, as these are what the clients tend to prefer. Overall, headhunters are not looking for the most talented or likeable candidate.


So, what is the typical process a headhunter uses to find the right match? The name, headhunter, is rather suitable for explaining the proceeds, as headhunters tend to “hunt” for the right candidates, instead of necessarily waiting for the candidate to come to them.

The basic process tends to follow these steps:

The headhunter receives a job description from the client. Although occasionally, headhunters can be closely involved in creating the job description and better understanding things such as the corporate culture, as this can help find the right match.

The headhunter analyses the key requirements and starts searching for the right candidate.

The places headhunters tend to look for and often in this particular order are:

  • The agency’s own candidate database.
  • Personal contacts the headhunter has within the specific industry. This might include people they’ve previously helped find work and other word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Social media sites. The most common used platform is LinkedIn, but Facebook can also be utilized. Cold calling or cold emailing the candidates found on social media.
  • Advertise the position on a job site. This is relatively rare, but still an option headhunter might turn to.
  • The headhunter creates a shortlist of suitable candidates and presents it to the client.

In addition, certain headhunters and search executive firms are also in charge of the interview process. This means the headhunter shortlists the candidates to invite to an interview. The interviews can be an initial phone interview, together with a face-to-face interview for selected candidates. Afterwards they might present two to three candidates to the organization to choose from.

It’s not unusual for the initial search or even interview process to come up with no suitable candidates. According to data, 30% to 50% of all recruiting efforts are classified as a failure.

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Now that you are aware of the “hunting” process, you can begin improving the way headhunters take notice of you.

Below we’ll introduce you the two steps that can ensure you can gain attention.

Position and brand yourself

First, you need to position and brand yourself well in the eyes of headhunters. There are essentially two key routes for enhancing your employee brand: through a strong online presence and with a quality CV/resume.

You need to focus on constructing a strong online presence on public social media platforms used by headhunters. The key platforms to focus on are LinkedIn and Facebook.

What are the best practices you should focus on? First, it’s important to create a detailed, yet short enough, summary of your skills and past experiences. You definitely want to focus on highlighting the skills required in your ideal career. You need to remember headhunters will be looking at your profile and comparing it with the job positions, they are searching for.

Therefore, you need to think about the roles and companies you want to attract before creating the online profiles. The best way to do this is to research your ideal job roles and companies to get an idea what they want. In addition, since you are perfecting your online profiles, focusing on keywords is important.

Overall, it’s crucial to ensure your social media profiles are clean and professional, if you are using public profiles. In 2012, a survey by ExecuNet found 90% of recruiters searching for candidates’ names online. Therefore, an unprofessional profile, use of profanities or inappropriate comments can damage your chances.

The second key way to positioning yourself higher on the headhunter’s shortlist is with a quality CV/resume. The task is not easy considering headhunters only spend six seconds on individual resumes.

Headhunters use ATS systems to scan resumes in their database, so it’s important to focus on the relevant keywords and ensure you send out your CV/resume to all relevant agencies. Once again, it’s crucial to ensure you target the roles you are looking for with your keywords. Standardized resumes are unlikely to provide you the results you are looking for.

What are some of the other points you need for creating a quality CV/resume? You should focus on:

  • Include the most recent skills, experiences and qualifications to guarantee the resume is up to date. Ensure you only highlight the relevant skills, experiences and qualifications in terms of the job you are looking for.
  • Have a clear and attractive headline. The headline should immediately point out your experience, qualifications and ambitions.
  • Erasing all grammatical errors. 59% of headhunters will reject a candidate simply because of spelling and grammar errors.

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Reach out to headhunters

Your second step should be to increase your efforts on reaching out. While headhunters are in charge of contacting you in terms of job positions, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active in positioning yourself into their ‘inner circle’.

If you can highlight your professionalism and qualification in terms of specific types of jobs, headhunters are more likely to remember you when appropriate job positions land on their desks.

Networking is a crucial part of a job search. You want to keep growing your own personal network by focusing on both headhunters and industry professionals.

Start by identifying the headhunters and industry influencers who are related and relevant to your career goals. We’ll delve into identifying your career goals a bit more in the following section. The key to remember is that not all headhunters are relevant to you. You need to identify the headhunters with access to the roles you want.

In terms of creating networking opportunities, you should be active in attending different events. Career fairs and other industry-specific events are great opportunities to meet headhunters, as well as create connections with different companies and industry influencers.

When you make a new connection with a headhunter, you must be pro-active in staying in touch. Follow-up on the new connections and maintain a regular relationship. This should include staying in touch on social media, participating in any recruitment events the headhunter might organize, and sending an updated resume/CV every once in a while to the headhunter.

Overall, it’s beneficial to have a list of the relevant headhunters, and include their names, organizations and contact details in the file. You can use the list to stay on top of the last contact, the resume they have in their files and any other additional information you might wish to remember.


The key to getting a high paying job through headhunters relies on the understanding that it’s not the most skilled candidate that gets the calls. Headhunters will look for candidates that best fit the job description and requirements, not the people with the highest qualifications or the most experience.

In order to ensure the headhunters pick up your resume or find your LinkedIn profile, you therefore need to focus on the following strategies.

Identify your career goals

We briefly mentioned in the previous sections how having a set of career goals can help with your interactions with headhunters. You’ll be better equipped to create the right kind of profiles on social media and to write a compelling resume, if you know the career route you are after.

If you haven’t established a career plan or thought about the career progression steps you want to achieve, you definitely need to start thinking about them. Only once you are aware of the roles and companies you’d like to impress can you start contacting the relevant headhunters.

Knowing your ideal roles beforehand ensures you are more prepared to talk with the headhunters. They will also notice you are career-driven and know what you want from your career. This ensures they don’t try to match you with jobs that are clearly not suitable for you.

Furthermore, you should also be aware of the kind of salaries you are looking for. You don’t want to accept interviews for jobs that don’t meet your salary expectations or spend time applying for jobs with insufficient benefit packages.

Focus only on the headhunters and networks that help with above goals

Don’t send your resume to every headhunting agency you find. With your career goals in mind, you need to instead identify the agencies and specialists focused on your industry.

Find different recruitment agencies by searching for “headhunters (your industry)” in Google. You can also use keywords such as “headhunters (ideal role)” or “recruitment agency (your ideal company)”. This can provide you a selection of options.

When you find possible headhunters, check out the agency’s website for more information. Don’t be afraid to drop a quick note outlining your career interests and asking whether the recruiter has worked with similar job postings in the past.

Finally, you can always ask more information from your network connections. People working in your ideal companies or roles might be able to provide insights into the headhunting agencies they’ve worked with in the past.

Improve your qualifications

Since headhunters are only looking at the skills and qualifications mentioned in the job posting, you need to ensure you have these. Therefore, to maximize your chances of obtaining those high paying jobs, you need to know the specific requirements of these roles.

Once you have career goals in mind, you should start browsing job listings to see what sort of skills and qualifications are required for your ideal job. You can also search for the roles online with keywords such as “(your ideal role) skills and qualifications)”. Furthermore, you want to research the companies you are targeting and pay attention to their corporate culture. What kind of skills does the company keep mentioning and focusing on?

Once you have a better understanding of these specific requirements, start developing your skillset to fit these descriptions better. This might require some training or simply taking on opportunities at your current role to enhance your skillset. For instance, you could step up to different managerial positions to improve your leadership skills.

Be open-minded with the responsibilities and skills you develop. You might be looking for a career in marketing, but a high paying job in the industry could well ask for sales knowledge. Cross training is always a good idea, as long as it doesn’t take you too far away from your focus area.

Furthermore, remember top class jobs often require more than just technical skills. The higher you climb the career ladder, the more you need to focus on soft skills such as communication skills, team building skills and so on. Therefore, you need to pay attention to developing these as well.

As you develop these skills, update your resume and social media profiles with the new qualifications. Remember to target the specific keywords you’ve noticed companies using when searching for these roles.

If you’ve sent your resume to headhunters, remember to update them with the adjusted resume frequently. Not only does this ensure you’re resume is focused on the specific skills, but the contact can ‘bump up’ your resume on their list.

Strengthen your role as industry expert

Finally, you’ll be higher on the list of quality candidates if you continue to strengthen your role as an industry expert. This not only provides you better networking opportunities, but it also improves your resume.

Furthermore, since headhunters are the ones ‘hunting’ for the right match, you can fall into their radar by being active in industry discussion. Headhunters can sometimes simply browse industry forums, social media and other such resources for suitable candidates. If your name keeps popping up during this search, you’re likely to attract interest.

You should definitely consider starting a blog. Attracting a strong following with a blog will improve your online visibility. Readers are likely to share your blog posts and therefore headhunters might stumble upon them.

Even if blogging is not for you, you should become an active participant in industry discussion. Search for industry specific forums, read other people’s blogs and comment on them, and join in on the social media conversation. Finally, you should consider speaking at industry events and career fairs.

Find out more about becoming an industry expert from the video below:


Headhunters seek the right candidates for the most prestigious roles. If you want a high paying job or progress on the career ladder, then you definitely want to build relationships with headhunters. But for the relationship to be the most fruitful, you need to understand the ‘hunting’ process.

Headhunters are not all going to be useful for you, but at the same time, you can’t just lie around and wait for them to call you. You need to identify the headhunters most beneficial for your career development plan and build an online and offline presence, which will get you noticed.

If you are aware of what you want, develop the skills you need in your desired role and stay active in your communication with headhunters. They might just knock on your door with a lucrative job offer.

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