What Is a Headhunter?

Chasseurs de têtes ou agences de placement : comment choisir pour recruter? 1

Farah Van Vugt
Director, Professional Talent Acquisition | AURAY Talent


This profession may be misunderstood, but it’s intriguing and always gets people talking. Many people will cross paths with headhunters during their career. But what exactly do they do?

The profession has changed significantly over time due to the expectations and needs of both clients and candidates, technological changes and labour market upheaval, for example.

Chasseurs de têtes ou agences de placement : comment choisir pour recruter? 2

Relational and communication skills: the key to success

The role of a professional recruiter is certainly demanding, but it’s also thrilling and exhilarating. There are no specific professional development courses for recruiters. Those who succeed in this ecosystem have a wide range of qualities and skills.

First of all, you must like working with people. This career path involves talking to dozens of people every day. Qualities such as communication and listening skills, clearly presenting information, building and maintaining relationships and quickly fostering trust with strangers are essential. In short, relationships and communication are the cornerstones of this profession.

Business acumen: understanding the corporate ecosystem

Business acumen is also a key element of recruitment. Headhunters must have an understanding of the roles they are seeking to fill across a wide range of sectors (private, public, parapublic). To achieve this, they must maintain regular contact with their clients who often include senior executives and members of the board of directors. They must quickly grasp every aspect of the role and its ecosystem: the environment, industry, intricacies, internal power dynamics, business strategies, culture and organizational contexts and specific functions. Their in-depth understanding of a wide range of metrics makes searching for and approaching potential candidates easier.

Mastering technological tools: staying at the cutting edge of innovation

Knowledge of technological tools is also important these days. Our more senior colleagues will remember the days of asking telephone operators to transfer our calls. Those days are long gone. During the 2000s, we witnessed a series of incredibly rapid changes including the launch of specialized platforms (including LinkedIn), research integrators, artificial intelligence and much more. Recruiters must always keep up with the latest technologies that can help speed up identifying and approaching potential candidates.

Analysis and assessment skills: finding the right candidate

Headhunters must also have excellent analytical and evaluation skills. During their search process, they often talk to dozens or even hundreds of individuals when working on more challenging mandates. Not everyone has the ability to determine and assess a candidate’s qualities especially since it involves appraising managerial courage, vision, political savvy and strategic thinking. Good managers have these qualities, but they don’t list them on their profiles or CVs. Interviews are the only way to identify these criteria and determine whether the client’s requirements align with our assessment of the candidate. The ability to conduct effective interviews is essential.

Sales: attracting passive candidates

Sales is another vital component of the headhunting process. When a client shows an interest in hiring, the recruiter approaches potential candidates in the same way as a seller. They pinpoint and evaluate potential candidates in their network of contacts and where there is a potential match between the client’s primary needs and those of the candidate, the level of finesse used to sell the opportunity to a candidate (who may be passive) is the key to success. The recruiter must engage the candidate while also listening to their needs and irritants. Remember that the headhunter is involved in every step of the process and knows every facet of the organization. They must fully grasp the subject and be a proud ambassador for the role. The ultimate compliment is when a candidate asks us, “Have you worked for the organization?” Then we know that we’ve truly brought the challenge to life.


As you can see, headhunting is a complex profession and diplomacy is required at every stage of the process. Each mission is unique and has different characteristics. The profession is constantly challenging. Throughout the recruitment process, the most important element is ensuring a positive candidate and client experience that lives up to their expectations.

Do you have positions to fill within your company? We have a team of headhunters specialized in a number of fields to support you. Get in touch with us!


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