How to Pay a Headhunting Fee in 15 Easy Steps

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I hear statements like this all the time:  “Ugh, I don’t want to pay a headhunting fee!

I know this is because corporate HR folks think that it’s really hard to do, but I’m here to show you that it isn’t hard! In fact, in 15 easy steps, I’ll show you how you can do this all the time!

So, here are my “Easy Steps in Paying a Headhunting Fee.”

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  1. Post all of your jobs and wait for applications/resumes to come into your email and/or ATS.
  2. Weed out as many candidates as possible for stuff that doesn’t really matter, like too many jobs, not enough time at a job, going to the “wrong” school, not a high enough GPA, working for a company that was too big or too small, making a grammatical error on the resume, not living in the “right” area, etc.
  3. Email the few candidates you have left with a message about their interest level and make them fill out stuff like applications and questionnaires to be considered for the next step.
  4. Wait for email replies.
  5. Send the two (2) that reply as your “best” candidates on to the hiring manager. For the seven (7) others that reply after that, ignore them because they weren’t quick enough to be one of the “best” candidates.
  6. Don’t follow up with the hiring manager on the two candidates you sent. If she is interested, she’ll get back to you.
  7. Don’t respond to candidates following up and looking for feedback on next steps; you want to keep the power position in this arrangement.
  8. Send another email to the hiring manager after two weeks looking for feedback on original candidates you sent. The hiring manager won’t like the two and wants more candidates. You go out and see who else has posted a resume for the position in the past week (forget about those other seven who first applied; they are old by now). Send five (5) additional emails to the new candidates. Get one reply. Send it to the hiring manager.
  9. Let the hiring manager’s return calls go to voice mail, because you know they just want to complain about the quality and lack of candidates. Call her back at the end of business tomorrow. Of course, she’s already gone for the day.
  10. Hiring manager comes to your office. Crap. They caught you. You tell the manager you’ve been working non-stop on their opening and the three candidates are the best you can come up with.
  11. Hiring manager goes back to their office. I call your hiring manager. She tells me she can’t get any good candidates.
  12. Hiring manager sets up their own interviews. Three days later, if not sooner, I send your hiring manager five (5) candidates who are all capable of doing the job. I call your hiring manager to highlight two of the candidates who I feel would be the best fit for your organization.
  13. Hiring manager picks a favorite from the great interviews they just had. I’ve pre-closed both on an offer, so I’m what they call in the business a “sure-thing.”
  14. Hiring manager calls you and tells you they found a candidate through an outside source.
  15. You process my invoice.

See, it’s really not that hard to pay a headhunting fee. In fact, you practically don’t have to do much of anything! Just keep doing what you’re doing.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “How to Pay a Headhunting Fee in 15 Easy Steps

  1. But Tim, this is very Recruitment 1.0 and so many more firms have now moved on from the Corporate HR generalist being in charge of recruitment and employing specialists with often agency backgrounds and no its not always the failed recruiters – some of us actually hated the arrogance and short-termist attitude of the recruitment industry. These are people who do manage stakeholders properly and who do source candidates proactively (without the post and pray methodology you generalise about above) and who DO deliver better candidates and often a broader range of candidates than agencies who want the easy sell.

    I work for a company which is on the journey (we are probably round about Recruitment 2.5 in Matt Jeffery’s terminology) and even we deliver 70% of our external hires in senior, managerial and technical arenas through direct, usually proactive, sourcing. More importantly, we can demonstrate that direct hires tend to stay with the company longer (usually because the agency haven’t come back in after their hands-off period and prised them out) but more importantly we also see a higher percentage of our succession plan from direct sourcing. These are much more important metrics than cost – the fact they are a lower-cost hire just adds to the value.

    We do use agencies on occasion – there are some who are actually very good, but unfortunately they are in the small minority. Similarly, there are still HR folks like the above who complain about the fee BUT can’t/don’t/won’t offer a viable and useful alternative……but they are becoming less in terms of quantity.

    I recently spoke to a Search firm who we used to use before we went direct – he told me that every hire we had made through direct sources in their area of expertise would have been in the top 3 of any shortlist they provided. He openly said that his biggest fear was exactly what is happening, namely that companies are realising that if they recruit the right person and most importantly give them the right resources (i.e. more than just a Monster licence or LinkedIn Recruiter seat) they can still get high quality candidates with a quick turnaround and if that person hires 5 middle-managers a year they have covered their own costs and probably returned money to the company’s bottom line.

    You have also succumbed to the worst case of mis-representation in the recruiting industry. I would pay a head-hunting fee if the firm was actually head-hunting i.e. targeting specific names of people in specific companies over a period of months for a C-level position…………..but I wouldn’t pay a head-hunting fee to a contingent firm which has probably posted a job on a job-board and claims something else entirely (remember, I hate to admit to it, but I have been on both sides across three firms…….and that in 99% of cases is what happens).

    I long for the day when contingent firms start to charge by the hour for genuine work that they do…….I suspect fees would be substantially lower !

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