How to Get Yourself Head-Hunted

Last Updated Mar 3, 2010 5:46 PM EST

After a volatile two years, there are signs the job market is beginning pick up – and headhunters will be looking for talent to fill jobs.

Managers polled for the 2010 National Management Salary Survey by the Chartered Management Institute claim that over 60 percent of employees are being tempted to shift jobs by headhunters and recruitment consultants.

Social media's proliferation and the recession mean search professionals are adapting their approach, with some widening their search area. Mark Doig, head of talent acquisition at recruitment consultancy Alexander Mann Solutions, claims that active search is filtering down to the middle-management levels. He says: "There is a feeling that we are getting back to a war for top talent. Companies are asking themselves: did we cut back too much?"

His role has changed, too. In the past, search executives relied on a small network of contacts — a little black book, as he describes it. But the recession has pushed them to look further afield. If Doig's experiences are typical, the likelihood of being approached by a headhunter for the first time is much greater.

But the market's not so buoyant that you can afford to sit back and wait for the call. Judy Thompson, an HR specialist at 1st October Consulting, suggests you prepare yourself to be headhunted, viewing it as an 18-month project. Here are some ways to enhance your chances.

Fine-tune your CV

Goal: Make sure your CV is varied and detailed enough to meet managerial standards.

Your CV is still your calling card, but
headhunters looking to fill management posts may look closer and with a more
critical eye because they will be looking for specific qualities and skills.

Doig has a real bugbear about CV clichés –
try to avoid hackneyed phrases or make sure if you say that you’re a ‘people-person’
or are ‘strategic and commercially-minded’ you can back
that up with specific evidence.

An unusual career trajectory can work in your
favour if it demonstrates a breadth of experience – postings
overseas, projects outside of your main work area and even volunteering will
show you’ve got breadth.

A big black mark, according to Eastman, is a
run of short stays. Headhunters like to see you are capable of putting the time
in at a role – another reason for having an 18-month timetable in

Raise your profile

Goal: Become known as an expert in your industry

According to Doig, raising your profile among your
peers is the most important thing to concentrate on if you want to get noticed
by headhunters. Here are a few ideas:

  • Networking events: Identify industry seminars
    that look interesting to you, and stay for a drink and a chat afterwards.
    Or put yourself forward as a speaker or panellist. You can start
    locally with your nearest href=""> Business Link or Chamber of Commerce. Be specific about
    what you can offer in terms of expertise. You can also try approaching an
    event’s organisers to offer yourself as a substitute
    speaker — speakers often pull out at the last minute.
  • Tap your alumni network: Headhunters may
    look for alumni recommendations for candidate leads or to get information on
    someone they already have their eye on, so it helps if you are in contact with former
    classmates. Joining online alumni groups on social networking sites such as
    LinkedIn will put you in touch with other alumni.
  • Digital networking: What information
    comes up when you type your name into a search engine? Your online presence will
    be scrutinised by headhunters, so it’s worth checking your LinkedIn
    page is up-to-date and your Facebook profile passes muster. Doig recommends
    using a site like, which will
    list your appearances on all social media sites. Include a photo of yourself on
    your social media profile – it’ll put a face to your name.
  • Join your trade body: Industry bodies
    such as ACCA (for accountants), the Marketing Society
    and the CMI (for managers) are a great starting
    point for events and networking. It’s always possible you might meet
    a headhunter there, too. Membership organisations and conferences aren’t
    cheap, though, so invest wisely. Be sure the people you want to meet are going
    to be there.
  • Get quoted: Industry magazines and
    websites look for to approach for comment or contributions. Aim for
    publications that are considered their industry’s ‘bible’
    —in retailing, it’s Retail Week, in TV it’s Broadcast. (If
    you don’t know which one should be your target, search the name of a
    high profile business leader in your industry and see where they’ve
    been quoted.) Blogging and micro-blogging (via Twitter) can also help you set
    out your stall to a wider audience and help you build up a network within your

  • Court the headhunters

    Goal: Get on an executive search
    professional’s radar

    So you’re maintaining an industry
    profile: what else? A few headhunters suggest you
    become one of their contacts for information about peers. Eastman says she gets
    at least 20 unsolicited emails from people introducing themselves as possible candidates.
    Being able to put forward potential candidates for a job demonstrates your own
    expansive network – and you’re helping them do their job.
    Sooner or later, they will be considering you for a post because your name is
    always the first one that springs to mind.

    Eastman also advises against cold calling: take
    a more subtle approach – mention you are a friend of X, someone you
    know who they helped to place recently or who they regularly call for good
    industry intelligence. This will smooth your introduction.

    Once you have managed to get your headhunter to
    realise you exist, you may be invited for a face-to-face meeting, so that they
    can determine how you measure up to your reputation.

    Sharpen your interview technique

    Goal: Make sure your first impression
    is lasting

    The saying’s never been truer — you
    won’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Eastman’s
    interview workload has quadrupled in recent years so she advises candidates to
    pay attention to the messages they are sending out at interview. It may be
    worth investing in some presentation coaching — two or three sessions should
    be enough to iron out any creases in your personal brand.

    Like it or not, dress also matters: Eastman
    says she pays particular attention to how clean interviewee’s shoes
    are — an illustration of how critical headhunters can be.

    Watch what you transmit as well as receive.
    Listen carefully to what you’ve been asked and complete the thought
    in your head before answering. Stick to the point — treat it as if you were a
    senior manager reporting to the board.

    Do some research on the headhunter who is
    interviewing you – check out their company website or their social media
    profile. It’s flattering if an interviewee has made the effort and it
    never hurts to be charming.

    So, once you’ve got yourself noticed,
    you’ve handed over an impressive CV and you’ve passed
    muster at an initial interview, don’t congratulate yourself too much.
    The real work begins when you are actually put forward for that power role you
    were after.