What is Headhunting?

John Tilbrook

One of the first questions we’re all asked when we meet people is ‘what do you do?’ If I answer this question with ‘I’m a headhunter’ it’s often met with a blank look, or an enquiry about whether I can get the questioner a job. So, what is headhunting, and how does it differ from “traditional” recruitment?

Terms like headhunting, executive search and talent acquisition tend to be used fairly interchangeably within the industry, so it’s important to understand what a recruiter actually does, not just what they call themselves.

Not all recruitment roles are created equal, and there are pros and cons of the different types of approaches. For example, at Newman Stewart we only work on mission-critical, retained assignments, and we are usually headhunting when we do it.

What is headhunting?

Headhunting, often referred to as executive search or talent acquisition, is a specialised form of recruiting that focuses on identifying and engaging individuals with specific skills, experiences, and leadership qualities.

At its core, headhunting is a highly targeted recruitment approach focusing on finding top-tier, high-performing talent, often for senior-level positions or niche roles that require a specific skill set.

Headhunters are expert researchers, networkers and relationship builders. We identify high-potential, top performers who are often not actively seeking new opportunities.

Why clients work with us

Critically, being a head-hunter means a business-first approach. Taking time to understand our clients, their business, plans, objectives, challenges and opportunities.

At its core, headhunting is an art form, requiring a delicate balance of intuition, communication skills, and industry knowledge.

We work with our clients to fully understand and immerse ourselves in their business before we begin any search. Our consultants ask the questions that other people wouldn’t ask, to get to the essence of their client’s business. We want to understand where the business has been, why people want to work there, why their clients work with them, what the challenges are and how the business handles challenges.

With this approach, we move away from the transactional approach of the traditional recruitment model. We are able to advise our clients on not only the right person to fill the role at hand, but also on their future talent acquisition strategies and strategic business priorities such as succession planning.

We are not afraid to have difficult conversations with our clients because we know them and their industries in an in-depth way.

The Science Behind Success

While the art of headhunting relies heavily on intuition and interpersonal skills, its effectiveness is augmented by the strategic application of data and technology. Modern headhunters leverage a plethora of tools and techniques to identify and engage top talent, including advanced candidate databases, artificial intelligence-driven algorithms, and predictive analytics.

These technological advancements enable headhunters to cast a wider net, scouring vast pools of talent to identify potential candidates who meet specific criteria. Moreover, data-driven insights provide valuable intelligence on market trends, compensation benchmarks, and competitor landscapes, empowering headhunters to tailor their approach and make informed decisions throughout the recruitment process.

Why candidates work with us

It is in everyone’s interest to talk to us, as we might be able to provide a career-defining opportunity. At the most basic level, we are usually working on roles that you won’t find advertised anywhere else, and they are often confidential, so we are the only way to get access to the opportunity.

On top of this, as I outlined above, we work extremely closely with our clients to fully understand the requirements for each role, so if we contact a candidate it is because we think they will be a good fit and we are targeting them specifically.

We also vet our candidates extremely thoroughly before we put them forward to our clients. This involves an in-depth interview with us at a minimum, and can also mean a psychometric evaluation or solo interview. By the time our preferred candidate list is presented to our clients, we are sure that they are the right fit for the role.

Why recruiters work with us

At Newman Stewart, we only work on complex roles which require a research-led approach to finding the perfect candidate for our clients.

Headhunting searches are usually much slower-paced than traditional recruitment. The companies we work with are looking to make strategic hires and they know that the best candidates will have long notice periods and won’t be active in the job market. Searches can take anywhere from eight weeks to six months and more.

Headhunting requires a lot of research at the front end of the process. As part of our process we compile a list of companies in the relevant sector and then a list of the people to target within these companies (which may need to be signed off by the client) before you even start to approach candidates.

Headhunters will tend to make fewer placements, but they will usually have a higher monetary value. Our base salaries are higher than typical recruitment roles, so you are not as reliant on commissions or bonuses.

We operate on a research-led model. This means that our consultants only focus on one side of the process, meaning that they are truly specialists in what they do.

Headhunting roles at Newman Stewart

If you’re interested in exploring a role in the headhunting world, please get in touch with me or send me your CV.


Back to News & Insights

Artificial Intelligence: The Future of Executive Search?

Discover more

Driving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Guide for Senior Leadership

Discover more

Life After Waste: Closing the Loop of the Circular Economy

Discover more