Candidate Approach

Once candidates have been identified – usually the core role of a Researcher in executive search – the next challenge for the headhunting firm is to approach the candidate and try to get them interested in the position. This idea is part of the very essence of headhunting – converting passive candidates who aren’t actively looking for a new role to being interested in your position.

Most headhunters prefer to have an initial approach call on the phone as it gives them the opportunity to verbally describe the opportunity to candidates. It’s worth noting, however, that with the rise of tools like Linkedin, it’s never been easier for recruiters of all kinds to contact candidates, and as a consequence, “being headhunted” feels less special to candidates than it did 20 years ago. Some candidates will be approached multiple times a day, and won’t just jump on a headhunting call – they’ll want some extra details, and perhaps a job description first.

Headhunters need to cut a fine balance here – send the candidate too much information up front and there’s less scope to describe the opportunity on the phone and a risk the candidate might rule themselves out before you get to that stage. Job descriptions are often fairly dry and don’t sell the role as well as a well crafted pitch call. Be too vague, and you’ll never get candidates on the phone in the first place as candidates won’t be able to tell if it is relevant for them or not. The headhunter therefore needs to find a balance between being specific enough to get the candidate on the phone, but leaving room for some mystique and an exciting verbal pitch.

Whilst cold calling candidates can work well, and has been a staple of headhunting for years, this approach is increasingly challenging for the headhunter. Many companies – particularly B2C internet companies – don’t have easily found office numbers, and a cold call requires having that person’s telephone number. Increasingly, headhunters email candidates (there are various paid-for tools that can give personal email addresses for candidates) or send them inmails on Linkedin to book a future call with the candidate.

A typical approach call with a candidate might take 10-15 minutes, with the headhunter usually giving an initial overview of the role and company to candidates. This overview should cover a lot of the basics – who they company is, what the role is, what the company does, the essence of the role, the location of the position and some colour around the sort of candidate you are looking for. A good headhunting pitch call, shouldn’t be “sales-y” but use facts to help sell the position more subtly. If your client has grown revenues by 75% year on year, or become a market leader in its sector, these are excellent facts that can help to enrol candidates.

The initial approach call also gives the chance for the candidate to ask any pertinent questions and also for the headhunter to get an early sense of whether it might be of interest to the candidate. Typically, after the initial call, the headhunter will send the candidate a job description whilst they consider whether they want to pursue the role or not. This job description is just as important as the initial call when it comes to converting candidates. Many job descriptions are poorly written – a laundry list of role requirements with little to no thought put into how it sells candidates into the role. This document should provide information on the company, market and role that gets candidates excited. Many search firms nowadays prefer to write fairly long job descriptions in PowerPoint as they look striking and give the headhunter ample scope to describe the company and sell the opportunity to candidates.

Given that a headhunter might talk to 100+ candidates over the course of a project, it’s unrealistic for them to create a brand new pitch for each candidate. Part of the craft of good headhunting is to give a similar pitch to different candidates without it sounding scripted or the candidates not feeling special.