The 411 on Using Headhunters in your Job Search

Q. If I am using a Headhunter to search for a job, what do I owe them in terms of exclusivity? How do I ethically work with two or more headhunters? Thanks.

A. First, unlike a romantic relationship, there is no exclusivity with a headhunter or recruiter and you aren’t cheating on them if you select to see another one on the side. That should help put aside any guilty conscience or ethical dilemmas you are struggling with. However, there are some important considerations to make when working with recruiters, including how many you should be aligned with at any one time.

You need to be clear on what type of recruiter is right for your job search. Executive or retained search firms are paid up front by companies to fill a very specific role. If you are in a senior role, you should make contact with many retained search firms that specialize in your industry and role; there is no overlap with retained search firms trying to fill the same positions.


Contingency search firms are paid by the company after they fill the position and a few firms may be working to fill the same job at the same time. In general, it is expected that a job seeker will work with multiple recruitment firms. Partnering with only one limits the scope of your job search and puts too much emphasis on just one source. Just like you wouldn’t respond to only one job posting, you shouldn’t put all your eggs into one recruitment basket. On the flip side, by engaging with a plethora of different headhunters, you run the risk of them not taking your search seriously. Going back to the dating analogy, you will get more attention from someone who knows you are committed to them, even if it’s not exclusively. I generally advise candidates to have two or three trusted recruiters in their job search circle.


According to Dave Sanford, EVP of Client Services for WinterWyman, a search and contract staffing firm headquartered in Waltham, “More importantly than the number of recruiters helping with your search, though, is the relationship you have with them. No matter if you are working with one headhunter or two, you want to be partners with them.” You have to trust in their ability to listen to you, learn about you, guide you and be truthful (whether good or bad). Seek out someone who is honest, open and well-connected. Ask if they can help you. If they tell you they can not help in your search, appreciate the honest response and look for other recruiting firms who can. Continuing to call or Email a recruiter who can not assist in your job search efforts will only frustrate you and it won’t change their response.


Finally, if your expectations aren’t being met, don’t be afraid to change partners mid-dance if you aren’t seeing the results you are looking for.

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