Interviewing Candidates

One of the important differences between retained and contingent recruitment firms is that retained headhunting firms interview their candidates in detail before recommending that their clients meet with them. Part of a headhunter’s value proposition is that they save clients time by carefully interviewing candidates before recommending that the client meets them. The headhunter’s candidate roster should be carefully curated this way.

Once a candidate has had an initial pitch call with the headhunter, read the job description and confirmed their interest in the role, the next stage is for the headhunter to interview them. Face-to-face interviews used to be the de facto method for this, but the rise of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom has made this much less necessary in modern times.

It’s often difficult for headhunters to technically qualify candidates, and these technical capabilities can be important elements of many roles. No headhunter can grill a CTO about the details of modern software engineering, or a CFO about the nuances of treasury management. Rather, the headhunter is trying to assess;

  • Culturally – are they a good fit with the line manager and broader organisation?
  • Seniority – are they the right level for the role?
  • Motivation – what drives them?
  • Skills – do they have the requisite industry and functional experience we need?

If a detailed technical assessment is needed, that’s usually best left to someone well qualified in the client organisation. Headhunters will discuss candidate profiles with clients during their regular update calls to help them calibrate the fit. Once the client is happy to meet a particular candidate, the headhunter will provide them with a CV (or equivalent – perhaps a PDF version of their Linkedin profile) and a “candidate report” – the headhunter’s write-up of the candidate’s experience and fit against the position. This candidate report is a useful tool for the client as it should give an effective summary of the candidate’s experience and enable the client to focus on whichever areas interest them the most during their interview with the candidate.

Some companies value psychometric assessments of candidates, and many of the larger, “SHREK” headhunting firms have in house teams of psychologists to help with that assessment. Smaller firms may also have a network of independent psychologists who they can enrol into headhunting processes as needed.

How long is a shortlist of candidates in a headhunting process?

It really varies from project to project, but perhaps 5-7 candidates is a typical shortlist of candidates for a client to interview. Whilst every headhunter hopes that the initial group of candidates solves the problem, the reality is that the headhunter needs to introduce as many candidates as it takes to get to hire, and many headhunting assignments require more than 10 introduced candidates to close. The headhunter must therefore carefully balance “giving the client enough choice to close the project” whilst not “burning goodwill by introducing too many candidates that don’t make the grade”.