Getting a call from a headhunter used to be a sign that you had arrived in career terms, but headhunting is no longer confined to those earning six-figure salaries. So how should you respond the first time you are approached by a headhunter?
Firstly, you should not automatically assume you are the ultimate target of the call. Headhunting is a research-driven process. This is contrary to the popular idea that it is based on a list of names plucked out of a little black book. Headhunters aim to build up an initial "long list" of about 15 names, and if you are approached it is fair to deduce that you have been identified by someone as an authoritative source. If you do get a call from a headhunter do not appear too eager. One of the qualities that clients like to see in a candidate is that he or she is perfectly happy where they are. At this stage, asking a little more about the job and offering to send in your CV is about as far as you need to go.
At the other end of the spectrum there are those who are so well established in their current job that they brusquely rebuff calls from headhunters. This is not a good idea. Even if you are not interested on this occasion, getting into a headhunter's good books as a useful person to talk to could stand you in good stead in the future.
There are some questions that it is better not to ask at the outset. Top of the list is demanding to know who the client is before saying anything. One reason why this is not a good response is that searches are often conducted in circumstances of great confidentiality and the person being replaced might still be in their job.
It is also a mistake to ask for precise details about money at this stage, though it is reasonable to ask for a ballpark indication. However, what you are currently earning will be of great interest to a headhunter. The temptation can be for candidates to talk up their package in the hope of attracting an even better offer from the client, but this is not a good idea as it can backfire later.
But once approached, how do you get from the headhunter's long list of 15 to the short list of five or six that he or she eventually submits to the client? One useful tip is to be aware that the people who conduct the searches are generally experts in the field in question. As a result, they are more likely to be impressed by a candidate who can explain the issues clearly and simply than by those who try to blind them with science. So relax and just be yourself!
Establishing trust is crucial in establishing a two-way relationship with a headhunter. So build up a relationship over time. Find one who you trust, whose style suits you and whose organisation has the scale and reach that will enable them to work on assignments that will attract you.
So how can potential candidates become more visible and increase their chances of being headhunted?