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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.

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.


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