How to hire a headhunter

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While in-house recruiters are great at finding talent for most roles, you might consider hiring a headhunter when it comes to senior positions. Finding and hiring top-level candidates for hard-to-fill positions can be a difficult and time-consuming process for many companies. 

Headhunters specialize in recruiting highly qualified candidates for executive roles across public and private organizations. They have vast networks and deep insights into the current job market and your competitors – and are therefore ideal for finding you top-level candidates. 

But how do you actually find a skilled headhunter? When looking to hire a headhunter, you should search for experts who demonstrate great communication and negotiation skills – and who know how to persuade top candidates to apply to your open position. One of the best ways to do that is to evaluate your future headhunter’s skills during recruitment. 

In this article, you’ll understand what a headhunter is and what the difference is between headhunters and recruiters. We’ll also dive into what skills to test for when hiring a headhunter, where to find the most experienced professionals, and how much you can expect to pay them.

What is a headhunter? 

A headhunter, also known as a recruitment consultant or executive search consultant, is a professional who specializes in identifying and recruiting highly qualified candidates for job positions, particularly at the executive or senior-management level.

They’re financially incentivized to proactively search for candidates, often reaching out to individuals who may not be actively seeking new job opportunities.

Once they identify potential candidates, headhunters evaluate their qualifications, experience, and cultural alignment with the company; some may even look at applicants’ character to see whether they’re the right fit, especially for roles such as a CEO’s or other C-suite managers. 

Headhunters may also conduct interviews, assessments, and reference checks on behalf of the company to evaluate the candidate's suitability for the role. 

The headhunter acts as an intermediary between the organization and the candidate, facilitating the recruitment process and negotiations.

Recruiters vs. headhunters: What’s the difference?

At this point, you might be wondering what the difference is between a recruiter and a headhunter. Let us explain. 

A recruiter is an individual who is charged with quickly filling open positions at a company. They would usually work for the company itself but could also be employed via a staffing agency. Their main goal is to find the best possible talent for any role that is open at the company. 

A headhunter, on the other hand, specializes in finding candidates for senior or executive positions. They are third-party talent finders and would usually work for several companies at the same time. 

What sets them apart from traditional recruiters or hiring managers is their large professional network and ability to nurture relationships with prospects for a given role, even those who aren’t immediately willing to change jobs. 

Headhunter hard skills

During your headhunter recruitment process, it’s essential to know which hard skills to look for and how to evaluate applicants’ expertise and industry knowledge. When deciding whether a headhunter is qualified or not, consider these factors: 

Sourcing and talent acquisition skills

The ability to effectively find and attract candidates is one of the most crucial skills to look for in your next headhunter. 

Look for professionals who have already built strong professional networks and who know how to leverage platforms like LinkedIn, industry-specific job boards, and professional databases. Keep an eye out for headhunters who regularly visit local and global events to build and nurture business connections.

Interviewing techniques

A skilled headhunter should be proficient in conducting different types of interviews to accurately assess a candidate's skills and suitability for a role. Look for experts who have enough experience with different interview styles and types under their belt, such as behavioral, competency-based, situational, and structured interviews.

Knowledge of recruitment technologies (and willingness to learn)

Your next headhunter should be familiar with the different HR tech tools on the market, such as applicant tracking systems (ATS), sourcing and screening tools, skill assessment platforms, and candidate relationship-management systems. 

Even if your next headhunter hasn’t used the exact same platforms you’re using, they should have a solid grasp of how those systems function – and be willing to get up to speed quickly. 

Industry knowledge

Headhunters should have deep knowledge and understanding of your industry. Look for someone who’s staying updated on industry trends, market dynamics, and key players. This will enable them to effectively identify and evaluate candidates who have the right industry-specific skills and experience.

Confidentiality, discretion, and strong business ethics

Headhunters often deal with sensitive information, including confidential job openings and candidates' career moves. 

Therefore, they need to maintain confidentiality and exercise discretion when working with clients and candidates – and also have strong business ethics. These skills enable them to make the right call in complex situations.

Soft skills to look for when hiring a headhunter

During your headhunter hiring process, you should also look for professionals who demonstrate the right soft skills, such as: 

Soft skills to look for when hiring a headhunter explanation graphic


A headhunter needs to be a skilled communicator; otherwise, they won’t be able to approach and engage the right talent. 

Especially when it comes to hiring for executive roles, your headhunter needs to have a silver tongue to be able to persuade candidates to join your company. That’s why you need to test their communication skills.

TestGorilla’s Communication test will enable you to evaluate someone’s ability to understand and interpret written and verbal communication, listen actively, and use professional etiquette. 

Candidates who perform well on this test know how to communicate with confidence and open-mindedness and are able to offer empathy and feedback when needed.


Another skill to look for in a headhunter is their ability to negotiate with highly qualified candidates. Your next headhunter will need to negotiate benefits, remuneration, and career opportunities on a daily basis – and know how to persuade the best candidates that your company is the right place for them. 

Our Negotiation test will evaluate a person’s ability to control and drive a discussion, influence people, and leverage psychology to get a desired result. 

Those who do well on this test will be able to close deals and win arguments while maintaining positive relationships with all parties involved. 

Attention to detail

When looking for top talent, your next headhunter will often need to process large amounts of textual information. They would go over resumes, test results, and LinkedIn profiles to look for specific positive signs, so they need excellent attention to detail. The Attention to detail (textual) test will measure someone’s ability to match, filter, and compare information. This means they’re able to process text quickly without overlooking the small details.

How to assess headhunter skills

At TestGorilla, we believe all candidates deserve a fair and objective skills-assessment process, which is why we advocate for skills-based hiring. Skills testing, which is a central element to skills-based hiring, is a recruitment method that enables you to make better hiring decisions. Not only will it help you ensure you’re hiring qualified candidates, but you will also be able to avoid biases while streamlining your recruitment process.

Candidates who perform well on our evaluations show that they have the right skills to perform well at their job, so you won’t need to worry whether you’ve made the right hiring decision. This will also ensure you have a lower turnover and help you avoid unnecessary spending due to bad hires

You can combine up to five skills tests in a single assessment and then invite applicants to take it. Here are some of the best tests you can use to hire your next headhunter:

Where to find headhunters

There are several ways you can find qualified headhunters for your organization.

  • Online search: First, you can start by conducting a targeted online search using search engines or professional networking platforms. Use keywords such as "headhunters," "executive recruiters," or "recruitment consultants." Narrow the results by adding your industry and location. 

  • Industry associations: If there are any industry associations or professional organizations related to your field, that should be your next stop. These associations often maintain directories that list reputable headhunters within the industry. You can also reach out to the association or its members for referrals to headhunters who specialize in your industry.

  • Personal referrals: Use your professional network to find headhunters. Talk to colleagues, industry contacts, and especially to senior executives who have worked with headhunters before and ask for recommendations. 

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great way to find qualified headhunters. Again, use relevant keywords and filters to identify headhunters who specialize in your industry and location. Explore their profiles, connections, and activity to assess their expertise and reputation. If you find a candidate whom you like, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • Job listings: Monitor executive job listings and specialized job boards that cater to high-level positions. Pay attention to the recruitment agencies or headhunters mentioned in the job postings. Reach out to these agencies or headhunters directly to express your interest.

Headhunter job description template

When you begin your headhunter hiring process, you need to create a unique job description that stands out in a crowd of offers.

Your job description should be easy to read, outline the main responsibilities of the role, list benefits and salary, and be written in an engaging way in order to attract the right talent. 

We’ve created a job description template that you can use immediately when looking to hire a headhunter. Feel free to copy it and tailor it to your industry and company.

  • Job title: Executive Recruiter/Headhunter

  • Job summary: We’re looking to hire a headhunter that will aid us in sourcing, attracting, and hiring senior-level managers and executives. The right person for the job will have excellent communication and negotiation skills and a keen eye for detail. If this sounds like the right job for you, get in touch, and we’ll get back to you with information on the next steps. 

  • Main responsibilities: 

    • Sourcing and evaluating candidates for executive positions

    • Running background checks

    • Facilitating and conducting interviews

    • Negotiating remuneration and benefits

    • Providing market insights and information 

    • Maintaining a strong professional network

  • Experience and skills required: 

    • 2-5 years of executive recruitment

    • Outstanding communication and negotiation skills

    • Excellent attention to detail

    • Strong business ethics and judgment

    • Research abilities

    • Market insights

  • Salary: [Mention salary range here; see next section for more info]

How much does a headhunter cost?

So, what’s a headhunter’s average salary?

According to Glassdoor, in the US you can expect to pay between $66,000 and $117,000, with an average yearly remuneration of $87,383 per year

Bear in mind that this amount includes base salary and bonuses. The average salary without bonuses is currently around $67,742 per year. Bonuses include commission, tips, and profit sharing. 

Headhunters who have niche industry experience and a particularly impressive track record might make up to $150,000 per year.

You can also find headhunters who are paid on contingency. This means that they’ll only get paid when successfully placing a candidate in a job. The typical fee is around 20% to 30% of the total first-year pay of the new hire. 

Hiring a headhunter that gets paid on a contingency might be the better choice if you’re looking to fill only a few positions. They’ll be incentivized to find you a top candidate in order to get paid. This means they’ll likely put more effort into finding the right candidate for your organization – and also that they’ll work faster. 

Plus, you won’t need to hire them as a full-time employee and keep them on your payroll.

In any case, before you commit, you need to make sure you have the right budget to hire a headhunter, whether on a salary or on contingency. 

Headhunter interview questions

Once you’ve selected your top candidates based on their results on skills tests, it’s time to conduct interviews. 

This is your chance to ask specific questions that will give you insights into how a headhunter approaches candidates, how they maintain their professional networks, and whether they have the right skills to communicate and negotiate with applicants

If you’re unsure how to conduct interviews, you can simply follow our interviewing guide that will help you make the most out of the time you spend talking to candidates. 

Consider asking the following interview questions to gain insights into your candidates’ experience, approach, and suitability:

  1. Can you tell me about your experience as a headhunter? How long have you been in this profession, and what industries do you specialize in?

  2. What is your typical approach when searching for candidates? How do you identify potential candidates who may not be actively looking to change jobs?

  3. How do you stay updated on industry trends and market dynamics? How do you ensure you’re able to maintain a strong network of contacts within the industry?

  4. Can you provide examples of successful placements you have made in the past? What were the challenges you encountered, and how did you overcome them?

  5. Can you describe your process for conducting candidate interviews and assessments? How do you verify the candidate's qualifications and experience? 

  6. How do you maintain confidentiality throughout the recruitment process? How do you handle sensitive information about job openings or candidates' career plans?

  7. How do you handle negotiations between clients and candidates? Can you provide examples of successful negotiation outcomes you have achieved?

These questions will help you gauge the headhunter's expertise, track record, and the tactics they’re using to source the best talent. Feel free to tailor these questions based on your industry and specific requirements.

Hire headhunters quickly and efficiently with TestGorilla 

Headhunters specialize in sourcing, approaching, and recruiting executives for top management roles. They know how to leverage their large networks and market knowledge to find and engage the best candidates – even those who are not looking for new opportunities.

So, if you need to hire senior-level managers or executives, your best bet is to employ a skilled headhunter to do the heavy lifting for you. 

TestGorilla can help you with this: Our tailored skill tests take away the guessing game when hiring an expert. Simply implement a skills assessment in your recruitment process, to find the best headhunter who has the right skills to manage your next executive recruitment campaign. 

Sign up for our free plan today or book a live demo with one of our specialists who will take you through our testing process, and see for yourself why more than 10,000 companies have used our platform to make better hires.

Need a recruiter? Don’t allow the competition to snatch the best talent out there. Find the best headhunter with TestGorilla, the easy way. 

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