Due in part to the labor shortage, the industry has its share of sweatshop-style
agencies and unscrupulous fly-by-nighters. How do you tell the good from the bad?
Network. Ask your CIO buddy who it was that got him or her the job. Talk to IT
consulting or venture-capital firms: they often use headhunters themselves or know who
their clients have used. And when you're talking to a particular staffing firm, ask for
its client list. Make sure you call those companies.
Boyd adds that most states have headhunter associations, such as the Massachusetts
Professional Placement Consultants (MPPC), that publish membership lists and codes of
ethics. There are also state boards that arbitrate disputes between hiring companies
and headhunters, or between firms that claim commissions for the same placement, says
Negotiate the fee. Seek a long-term relationship, but make it
contingent on getting a break from the standard fee, Boyd advises. If you're hiring a
lot of people, ask for a volume discount.
Look for a refund policy. According to Lou Rubino, director of
staffing at Braun Consulting, an IT firm in Chicago, "most of the firms will give you
anywhere from six months to a year" to decide if a new hire is working out. If you
decide that he or she isn't, "they'll give you a full refund or they'll replace the
person for free."
Make sure the headhunter's off-limits (antipoaching) policy is to your
liking. The strongest ones prevent the headhunter from hiring away anyone from
your company for at least six months after the placement. But some firms try to limit
these restrictions to certain departments. If you're not sure, run the policy by your
Keep your human resources department closely involved. The
reason: IT managers with discretionary money for headhunters may be more likely to cut
a bad deal due to inexperience, says Boyd.
Always have an internal person managing the process. Otherwise,
it will break down, Rubino warns. "If someone isn't doing that on a timely basis, the
search firm can't calibrate itself," he says.
Boyd says that job seekers who want to make themselves known to headhunters should
do the same research that he recommends to companies, and prepare marketing collateral
that will help the agency sell them to its client companies. Most of the headhunters
also encourage résumé submissions at their Websites.