Getting the most out of a headhunter

By David Essex, |  Career

Here again, knowledge is power. Two keys to building positive relationships with
headhunters are to have a realistic view of your career so you don't seek jobs you
aren't ready for, and to know which headhunters specialize in your field. That's the
word from Kalvin Thompson, a partner in Heidrick & Struggles' global practice for CIO
and CTO recruiting. "'Candidates' need to make sure they get to the right person who
deals with that business," he says.

Boyd says working with the wrong headhunter hits job seekers doubly hard because of
the side effects of the wasted time. "For most job candidates, wasted time translates
into dissatisfaction, self-doubt, and depression," he says. "It causes the person to
feel like a bad candidate."

Voices of experience

Karl Brensike, CEO of NetHesive, an Internet software developer in Torrance, Calif.,
says he couldn't have launched his one-year-old company without headhunters. He
desperately needed a chief software architect to plan and manage development. "The
first time we started, we tried the Internet and we couldn't find anyone," Brensike
says. The situation became so serious that Brensike ordered his six top sales and
technical people to drop everything and find headhunters and candidates. NetHesive
worked with more than 60 headhunters; eventually, one found Mark Winkler, who had made
a name for himself at, later selling it to Compaq. NetHesive also found
its vice president of product development through a headhunter.

Brensike believes that above all else, you need to make sure headhunters understand
your business, which can be especially tricky for dot-coms and other start-ups with
unusual products or business models. "In the back of their head, they've got to be
thinking, 'Mark would absolutely love working here,'" Brensike says. "You really have
to sell them on your business model and how you're going to make money." More so than
established companies, start-ups must do this effectively or they might not have a
business. "I talk to the venture capitalists," Brensike says, "and one of their biggest
concerns is, 'Are you going to be able find good people, and keep good people?'"

Brensike tells cautionary tales about the smaller contingency firms. "The hard part
is that since you haven't paid them yet, they'll just flood your fax machine with
résumés," he says. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, says Rubino,
who ran worldwide recruiting first for Digital Equipment Corp. and then for Compaq
after it acquired DEC. "The cost you pay is [that] you have to go through that
paper," he says. "But in the end, if you like that candidate, you'll probably get your
money's worth."

Most of these experts can cite horror stories -- thankfully rare -- about
unscrupulous headhunters. Here are some folks to watch out for:

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