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How to Impress a Headhunter

One of the best resources in your quest for a new job is a professional recruiter, also called a headhunter. And despite a commonly held misconception, headhunters aren’t only for executives; they recruit everyone from truck drivers to doctors. Companies with open positions often turn to recruiters to save themselves a lot of time and effort, so headhunters may be looking for someone exactly like you right now. If you stick with the tips below, you’ll automatically put yourself head and shoulders above many other candidates because most people simply don’t know how to work with a headhunter.

Act the part. Perhaps the biggest mistake people make when working with recruiters is not going all out to impress them. A headhunter isn’t finding you a job out of the goodness of her heart—she’s getting paid to supply quality candidates to a client company. And she’s not going to put you in front of top-dollar clients if she’s unsure about your ability to present yourself professionally. So act like you’re on a job interview when you meet with a headhunter because you are. Be professional. Don’t meet with her in your sweats, with two-day stubble, and wearing a ball cap.

Sell your accomplishments. To help recruiters do the best job for you, you need to demonstrate how great you are so that they can pinpoint a job that’s a perfect match for you. Sell yourself and what you’ve accomplished. Your headhunter wants to know the answers to these two questions: “What have you made?” and “What have you saved?” As in, how much money have you made or saved for your company? This is a business, and you’ll go to work if you can demonstrate results.

Don’t get too comfortable. Job hunters often make the mistake of thinking that a recruiter is their friend. He’s not. Act the same way you would in a traditional interview: don’t bash your current employer, don’t blame other people for your mistakes, don’t make excuses, and don’t come across as angry about your current job situation. A headhunter isn’t your therapist or your mother. Good recruiters represent the best interests of the clients who’ve hired them to fill a position. So to get them to work hard for you, you need to be the best candidate for the job. Period.

Be prepared. You’ll waste both your time and the recruiter’s time if you show up unprepared to discuss your work history and provide documentation of previous employment. Are you vague about how many years you spent at the company you left to join your current firm? Look it up before you go. Have you written down the contact information for at least three professional references? If not, do it!

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Ask questions. You probably have a million questions about how this whole process works, and that’s actually a good thing. As any other interviewer would, a recruiter welcomes questions because it demonstrates that you’re interested. Ask the headhunter if he has experience in recruiting for positions like yours, how long he’s been in the recruiting business, what some of his successes have been, how long he anticipates the search taking, what you can do to speed the process, etc. The most successful headhunter-job hunter relationships are two-way streets: you need to be a good candidate, and he needs to be a good recruiter.

Bring your own ideas. If you have a very niched job, it’s probably best to work with a headhunter who only recruits for positions such as yours. But most headhunters recruit for a wide variety of positions and for many companies, which makes it difficult for them to stay on top of every single job possibility for plumbers through scientists. If you’re a hair stylist, for example, salons and spas are going to be where your recruiter will probably look first for you. But if you know that cruise ships employ thousands of stylists and may be a good route to try, speak up. Remember, collaboration is the secret to finding you a great new job.

Pump your headhunter for information. Once she’s secured an interview for you, make sure you receive as much information as possible from your recruiter before you go in front of a potential employer. Your recruiter likely not only knows pertinent details about the company—what their products and services are—but also something about the person or team who will be interviewing you. Ask, too, if other people have interviewed for this job and what mistakes they may have made.

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