Don’t Call Me a Headhunter

Headhunter. The definition of a “headhunter” is someone who seeks, collects and preserves the heads of enemies as trophies or ceremonial objects. This is not what I do and I certainly hope it’s not something my competitors do.

Whenever I attend an event and meet people for the first time, most ask me what I do for a living. They are confused when I respond that I am an “executive search consultant.” Most of the time, I receive glazed looks in response to this term and almost always need to follow it with a more detailed description: “I am hired or retained by corporations to help them recruit for specific executive-level positions.” This is typically followed by more confusion until I give in and say I am a headhunter. Then the vacant stare shifts into clear recognition – “Oh, now I understand what you do!” – followed by a description of their job-seeking friend “Joe” and why he’d be perfect for my client. Now I am just frustrated. That is not what I do either.

While referrals are welcome, I wish people would understand the core differences between executive search and headhunting:

  • We work with clients on very specific assignments. Even though “Joe” may be a great guy, if I don’t have a search assignment that matches his background, it doesn’t matter.
  • We are not a placement agency. We are a consulting firm that partners with companies to identify talented executives who have the right background, skills and leadership style – and on top of it all, will successfully work in their corporations. Oh, by the way, identifying a well-rounded candidate who can excel in a specific corporate culture is not as easy as it sounds.
  • Referrals of executives on the job hunt usually won’t help me. But referring me to a company that needs help in hiring an executive will.

I have to admit, I avoid using the term “headhunter” whenever possible because of its negative connotations, but at times it seems like the only way to clarify what I do professionally. So if you ask what I do for a living, bear with me as I explain what I do. And even if you don’t understand my choice of vocation, please pretend and spare me the need to say I am something that I’m not: a headhunter.

Sally Stetson

Sally Stetson

Sally brings more than two decades of experience as an executive search consultant. She has worked across diverse industries including life sciences and pharmaceutical, healthcare systems, manufacturing, telecommunications, non-profit and professional services. Sally also serves as Practice Leader for the firm’s Human Resources Specialty Practice. Read the full bio.

4 Responses

  1. Sally,

    I completely agree and shudder at the thought of being tagged solely as a “headhunter”.

    I prefer to call myself a matchmaker or a connector.

    What we do, especially on the retained level, is to help find the best fit for our clients.

    I applaud you for speaking out on this.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don’t Be A Stranger…

Just write down some details and our customer success heroes will get back to you in a jiffy!

Contact Info