Head hunters seek and ye shall be found

Headhunter searches qualified candidates with a magnifying glass

And then the phone rings... “Do you have a moment to speak openly?” Head hunters – or, as they are often called, recruitment consultants – can lend a helping hand or give your career new direction. But they don’t have the best reputation. This is because the market is also full of rogues who are simply out for easy money and don’t have the careers of their clients in mind.

In addition, recruitment consultants are like phantoms: nobody takes any notice of them for years until one day they appear out of nowhere and call up with an unexpected job offer in their back pocket or contact you by email.

Still, it would be ill-advised to slam the door in the faces of these modern-day bounty hunters. Who knows, perhaps one of them does have the perfect job in their pocket.

Head hunters are quite hard to pin down at first. Confidentiality – not transparency – is part of their business model. For you, this means maintaining a healthy basic mistrust while at the same time remaining polite and professional. How is this possible and how do you put HR agents on your trail? Here’s how...

Head hunters: getting up close and personal

How to attract the attention of recruitment consultants and improve your job prospects:

Hone your profile

Include keywords in your business profile (LinkedIn, Xing) that head hunters will respond to – in other words, exactly the qualifications you want people to enter in order to find you. Caution: overly aggressive self-promotion (“seeking new challenges...”) can tip off your current employer to your intentions, which can in turn lead to awkward conversations.

Attend events

You are likely to cross paths with HR recruiters and other people at relevant trade fairs. Take the opportunity to casually strike up a conversation with someone at the buffet or fair booth.

Increase your presence

Providing your Twitter followers or blog readers with interesting content will improve your reputation as an expert. Giving lectures or writing articles as a guest author for trade magazines or online platforms will also allow you to position yourself as an expert in your profession, thus ensuring you are heard and read by head hunters.

Expand your network

Gradually build up a professional network and regularly invest time in maintaining it. Your network may end up leading you to the offices of head hunters.

Career killers: things to avoid

These two self-marketing strategies certainly will not take you where you want to be and may even have a boomerang effect on your career:

Calling head hunters

Do not sell your own services like chestnuts at an open-air market. This will devalue you and give recruitment consultants the impression you are in desperate need of a job change.

Sending in your CV

Some head hunter pages allow you to upload your CV. Mistake! What at first sounds convenient is merely a softer version of the phone call – which also amounts to an act of desperation of sorts. In addition, you never know where exactly your documents might be circulating. The may even end up on your current employer’s desk in the form of a recommendation. All of these things have happened before...

Dealing with head hunters the right way

An unsolicited call or secretive email. When a head hunter makes contact for the first time, people are often perplexed and make mistakes in their responses. Here’s the right way to handle this situation.


Remain reserved during the first interaction. Listen attentively to offers, signal possible interest, ask for contact details – but under no circumstances should you broadcast your desire for a change or describe the specifics of your current career situation. The first interaction is nothing more than an informal introduction. You then have the opportunity to research the credibility of your caller.


During the next conversation, feel free to proceed more assertively. Who is the recruitment consultant’s client? What is the exact position in question? What salary range are we talking about? If you are interested in the job, first request that a job description be sent to you in writing before you send your CV and references.


Never say anything negative about your current employer. This will cast you in a very bad light. Express your desire for change in a way that does not devalue anyone. Example: “After many successful years here, I’m fully open to taking on a new challenge.”


A call from a head hunter is flattering, but you should remain mentally grounded. After all, it is by no means certain that the client will want you in the end or that the new job is any improvement over your current one. So feel free to take being contacted as a compliment, but not (yet) as an open invitation to a better working life.


Offer your expertise and references to establish a lasting contact – but of course only if you are dealing with a legitimate head hunter. You may indeed be able to recommend a pleasant colleague who is eager for a change. In return, your contact might thank you with a new job offer. Of course, this demands great finesse.

Head hunter check: how to recognise legitimate recruitment consultants

They respect confidentiality

Good head hunters will understand if you are unable to speak candidly – and value confidentiality.

They have done their homework

The Internet is a treasure trove of recruitment consultants. You can therefore expect a head hunter to have at least looked at your LinkedIn or Xing profile – and not simply cast their fishing line in your general direction.

They don’t make any promises

Is the job is virtually certain for you? You are the absolute dream candidate? These kinds of promises are highly dubious and expose the head hunter as a con.

They do not keep information under lock and key

What is the job in question? Who is the client? A person who steadfastly refuses to reveal this is ultimately suspicious.

They provide their contact details

Only dodgy characters operate in the shadows. In addition to requesting the person’s phone number and email address, you should also verify them. And always have a look at the head hunter’s website.