After the initial secret contact, a meeting place is agreed (the more secret the better) and there, well away from prying eyes and ears, the hunter and the hunted can talk and see if some kind of deal can be made, on salary, golden "hellos" and any other extra benefits.
These meetings might last for several days, weeks, or even months until eventually a deal is struck. This scenario is typical for city workers who have been both the beneficiaries and the victims of such goings-on.
But the cloak-and-dagger life of the headhunter may be on the verge of extinction. It is now possible for all the deals, the secret meetings, and the bargaining to take place on the Internet. The day of the e-headhunter has arrived.
Yes, those recruiters of the kind of people whose salaries are estimated in telephone numbers, are now using the latest technology to ensure that a universally recognised business practice has moved well and truly in the digital age.
Instead of the pub, there is the chat-room, which has been an integral part of the Web almost since its inception.
Parker Bridge is one of the best known recruitment companies in the City of London. Traditionally, it has used the well-furrowed route of furtive meetings in secret places to search out a target's response to a client's offer.
"But now we have the Internet, this is another means of finding someone," says the company. It can all start with a simple email, but if that someone is biting, and wishes to know more, then we can fix up a special secure chat-room where terms can be discussed - and of course this can happen at any time of day.
The person being targeted doesn't even need to leave his or her office." Job seekers need not wait to be approached. Any high-powered executive can go to a recruitment website, and leave their details if they feel it is time for an uplifting change.
But this has been possible for some time. The difference is that those people who prowl the City searching for high-powered talent are developing new ways of doing this.
"There is another element that has revolutionised the way our particular profession works, and that is the way the Internet has overcome time - and distance," says Greg Turner, Interactive Strategy Consultant at TMP.
"We can now operate globally, and this means executives and senior management can be recruited from any part of the world to work in the other. So we can talk - via the Internet - to likely candidates from Australia who just might be interested in working in say America."
The Internet has also opened up other ways of streamlining the recruitment process. "Now we can screen candidates - using psychological testing - about their attitudes to the job, and in general, thus eliminating those who are decidedly unsuitable."
However, there is a still a need for face-to-face contact, and it appears whatever technological marvels are about to be delivered in future, employers, or their agents, still have to meet the potential recruit.
"Today the process has been speeded up a great deal, but the length does rely on individual circumstances, and at what level they are being recruited. Although the Web appears to have been fairly easily assimilated into this line of business it was once thought that it would be responsible for killing it off altogether.
"In fact, people were openly saying that the introduction of the Internet meant that companies such as ours were no longer needed," says Paul Glatzel, technical strategic director of Executive Connections.
"The thinking was along these lines - big corporations and clients didn't need us, and could be able to get together on the Web and exchange the information that they needed from each other, and as a result, the individual would, or would not, move to another position. Well, that didn't happen," he adds.
Executive Connections openly admit that it is a late entrant to the Web, having only had its site up and running for one year. "But make no mistake - we definitely see it as an integral part of our strategy. For example there are lots of claims around from companies similar to us, that they operate a fully integrated Web system, but I think you will find that in the vast number of cases, this is not true. Our aim is to honestly project such a site - and be at the cutting edge of this particular technology.
"The key to the future is to make the Web simply a doorway to your recruiting system." According to Glatzel most recruitment agencies have still failed to make this happen. "I think the Web can sometimes confuse issues in terms of recruitment. At the end of the day, it is an extremely effective communications tool, but in truth it doesn't really change the fundamentals of what we are doing.
"But what it does allow us to do, is to communicate with certain individuals far more effectively that in previous circumstances." None of the new Internet-enabled recruitment tactics are particularly revolutionary but they have made the whole end-to-end process far more efficient.
"Elements of our site are password protected," says Glatzel. "We can give our clients or the candidates a log-in name plus a password, and they then can go online at either their desks or, if they prefer, an Internet cafe.
"This is all to ensure that all this does not need to go through a corporate email system," he adds.
And inevitably, some of the new processes involving the Web are imported from the US. "We have been actively involved in a course in America - who are somewhat more advanced than they are here - in which we use what it is called aggressive data mining techniques.
"Just so there is no misunderstanding, we are not hacking systems. What we are doing is simply intensively interrogating corporate websites. This is publicly available information outside of their firewall, but we just look at this just that little bit more closely"
But despite all these electronic gizmos Glatzel still arrives at the same conclusion. "At the end of the day, after emails, website, downloads and such, nothing, just nothing, beats personal contact."
This was first published in August 2001