Headhunters Vs HR – The Age-Old Battle Explained


It’s the age-old battle, internal recruiters disparage Headhunters and Search firm people trash HR. Let’s take a fair and balanced look that the benefits and limits of each of these valuable hiring resources.

What’s the deal with recruiters?

In my previous book, I discuss the different types of recruiters and how they can help people with their career. Let’s invest a few minutes exploring how they can help you hire. There are two classifications of recruiters, internal recruiters and headhunters.

The pros and cons of Internal Recruiters

Internal recruiters are the recruiters that your company employs to handle your open jobs. The advantage of these folks is that you’re not paying any additional external fees for this person. The cost to a company for this type of resource is fixed, typically you pay them a salary or hourly rate without any commission so the cost is the same regardless of how many people you hire. The other advantage is they know the culture of your organization and what type of people work best in it. The disadvantage is these folks is tend to have a very high workload. This means they have little time to reach out and attract candidates that aren’t looking for a job. The typical strategy of an internal recruiting model is to have fewer recruiters working on more job openings.

I spent ten years managing an internal recruitment program and I’m one of the few people in the entire recruitment business book-writing industry that has worked in both internal corporate recruiting and as a headhunter. Based on this experience, I can tell you that internal recruiters are extremely cost-effective; however they struggle to find the top performers from your competitors. Internal recruiting works best when you’re hiring a large number of very similar jobs and candidates aren’t hard to find.

Their tools tend to be limited to things like LinkedIn, candidate applicants, and possibly a little bit of networking if they have any time. There is little focus on the proactive and strategic parts of recruitment. I estimate that most spend less than five percent of their time speaking to people in the industry who aren’t looking for a job. That simply isn’t an effective model. If this model works for you, that’s just great. But if you need to find a star in a shorter period of time, your best options are: A, to take matters into your own hands and reach out to people in your network or build your own network or, B, get somebody to do the job who’s already built a network of high quality candidates in your industry.

Are external recruiters better?

Since I run an external recruiting firm, you might be thinking that I am now going to tell you how great external recruiters are. Unfortunately, the majority of headhunters now work more like corporate recruiters or worse, they are pushy sales people with zero knowledge. They work on LinkedIn, they post jobs, they send whatever they find. Become an educated consumer and learn where the experts reside. These are the individuals who can help you to target top performers, and coach you to make you a better hiring manger.

How the best recruiters work

If you ask the right questions within your network and interview recruiters, you’ll discover that not all recruiters spend all their time on LinkedIn. Some recruiters work in the old school way that existed before LinkedIn when the telephone, a database, and printed directories were the only way to find talent. They pick up the phone. They strive to identify people who are happy in their job and not looking. They build relationships and market knowledge which allows them to create candidates that don’t exist by identifying gaps in individuals’ career goals and offer new opportunity to fill in those gaps.

This skill takes years to develop and isn’t in the toolkit of most corporate recruiters. It simply doesn’t make sense for them to do this. Headhunters need to build relationships with all good candidates across geographies and functions within their market. Corporate recruiters don’t place the same value on building relationships in their industry. They’re focused on their company and candidates they can hire now to fill current jobs. From a candidate’s perspective they also have little need to befriend a corporate recruiter unless they are looking for a job at their company. A headhunter can unlock many, many doors so it’s wise to get to know a few. Candidates know this, so the smart ones are more likely to speak to you even if they’re not looking. This is the power that a truly effective headhunter brings to your career and the power that a headhunter brings to your search process.

Ask how recruiters work

Unfortunately, this is the era of the “lazy LinkedIn Recruiter.” Why anyone would pay twenty or thirty thousand dollars for a headhunter who posts jobs or trolls LinkedIn is beyond me. This investment only makes sense when you hire a market expert who has invested the time to build their own network and a highly valuable database. Sure, I use LinkedIn but I use it as a source for data not as my major focus. Find a recruiter who is focused on finding people that aren’t looking for a job and your investment will be well worth it.

I’m not saying that you need to use search for all your jobs. The fact is you may be able to build a network and relationships that allow you to identify top quality talent with little to no use of headhunters. However, when that’s not working, before you go post and pray, and hope that somebody applies for your job, consider using the expertise of a headhunter that knows and works in your marketplace to get you connected with talent that can change the game for you.


Mike Adamo is a Medical Device Headhunter and author of several business books.

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You can also read more from Mike on his blog MRAdamo.com.

Check out Mike’s business books on career management and recruitment:

This Book Will Get You Hired

Radical Hiring Success