Chat with us, powered by LiveChat The Difference Between Headhunting and Recruitment Explained

What is the Difference Between Headhunting and Recruitment?

by | Jul 12, 2022 | Top Echelon Blog

It’s relatively easy to get the difference between headhunting and recruitment mixed up. After all, they both result in the hiring of a job candidate.

However, it’s the methods involved in each that mark the difference between a headhunter and a recruiter.

Basically, it’s the difference between an agency recruiter and an internal recruiter. (You can also refer to an agency recruiter as a professional recruiter, a third-party recruiter, or a search consultant. In addition, you can refer to an internal recruiter as a corporate recruiter or a HR recruiter.) Typically, an agency recruiter engages in headhunting and an internal recruiter engages in recruitment.

However, some agency recruiters don’t engage in headhunting 100% of the time. Before making any further distinctions, though, let’s look at the terms in question.

Difference between a headhunter and a recruiter

The main difference between a headhunter and recruiter is their approach to the recruiting and hiring process. One is proactive and the other is reactive.

There are two types of professionals in the employment marketplace: active job seekers and passive candidates. As their name implies, active job seekers are actively looking for a new job. They might be unemployed or they might be employed, but they don’t like their current situation. Either way, they’re actively looking for another opportunity. This means they’re looking through online job advertisements and applying for jobs of interest.

Passive candidates, on the other hand, are not actively looking for a new job. That’s why they’re called “passive.” However, they would be interested in making a move for another opportunity. The caveat is that the opportunity would have to be clearly better than the job they currently have. Passive candidates are not looking through online job advertisements. This means they are also not filling out online job applications.

The difference between active job seekers and passive candidates is related to the difference between headhunting and recruitment.

Namely, recruitment deals with the process of looking through the applications and resumes that active job seekers have submitted. This akin to “gathering,” since the internal recruiter or HR employee does not actively seek out job candidates. That’s because, theoretically, candidates are coming to them in the form of active job seekers.

Conversely, headhunting deals with the process of proactively reaching out to qualified candidates who are not actively looking for a new job. These are the passive candidates. Although it is not always the case, passive candidates are typically more qualified than active job seekers. In fact, they usually comprise the top 5% to 10% of professionals within their choice field. And because of this, not only are they gainfully employed, but they’re also fully engaged at their current employers. Since they represent top talent, their employer recognizes their value and wants to retain them.

However, the difference between headhunting and recruitment extends beyond just the difference in the candidates involved. It also includes other factors, including the following:

#1—Nature of the position

Organizations typically fill lower-level positions through recruitment. These include entry-level positions and even internships. Because they don’t need people with specialized skills, internal recruiters and hiring managers are satisfied with simply posting online job advertisements. They use other means, as well, including employee referral programs.

But if the position is a high-level opening, especially at the executive level, then an organization is more likely to employ headhunting.

#2—Urgency associated with filling the position

As we just illustrated, all job openings are not equal. Some are entry level. Some are executive level. In the same vein, some need to be filled more quickly than others. That’s because there is a cost number associated with leaving it open. In other words, the longer it stays open, the more money the company loses through diminished productivity.

The more quickly the organization wants to fill the position, the more likely the organization will use headhunting to get the job done.

#3—A particular candidate’s talent level

Another difference between headhunting and recruitment is the fact that companies use recruitment when there is a job opening. That is sometimes not the case with headhunting.

That’s because agency recruiters or headhunters sometimes market a MPC. This stands for “Most Placeable Candidate.” A MPC is a superstar candidate and passive candidate who would make a move for an opportunity that is better than their current job. Organizations sometimes interview and hire a MPC when they don’t have an open position. Instead, they create a position for the MPC once they hire the person.

You would be hard pressed to find an employer that has created a special position for a candidate they sourced through a job board.

#4—The organization’s willingness to pay a recruiting fee

If an organization does not want to pay a recruiting fee, then they’ll use recruitment and not headhunting. Unless they hire a headhunter and put them on the payroll. Companies have done this in the past, and it has become a common practice.

It sometimes works out well on both sides of the equation. The organization wants to headhunt top candidates, but doesn’t want to pay a lot of recruiting fees. An agency recruiter, on the other hand, is tired of living month-to-month with a contingency fee schedule and craves a steady paycheck. In such a situation, both parties get what they want.

Headhunting and recruitment: getting results

Now, back to our previous statement about how some agency recruiters don’t engage in headhunting 100% of the time. To be clear, though, there are some headhunters who engage in headhunting 100% of the time. This means they do not use job boards or job posting at all. They don’t even post open positions on their firm’s website. They are old-fashioned, dyed-in the wool, old-school headhunters.

However, not every professional recruiter ascribes to such an approach. Instead, they use a combination of headhunting and recruitment. This means they both proactive engage passive candidates through headhunting techniques and also source candidates via other recruitment methods. And one of those recruitment methods involves job boards and job posting.

As with most things, the bottom line is results. Which will generate the best results—headhunting . . . or recruitment?

Or both?

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