How to be headhunted

The best candidate for a job might be happy in their current role and not actively on the job market - but still the target for a headhunter.

Casually looking at or listening to job opportunities at a time when you don’t need to move can be perfect timing.

It is a recruitment truism that the best candidate for a job might be happy (and therefore successful) in their current role and not actively on the job market. 

These candidates are the stock in trade of the headhunter/savvy recruiter. I have been involved in moving many candidates whose initial response was that they are happy in their current employ. I’ve even done it myself.

Change is good

It is not a universally held belief, and not one I necessarily subscribe to, but I know employers who are put off by candidates with eight or more years in the same environment. The employer's fear is that these candidates might struggle to adapt to new environments and situations.

The reverse is also true. Employers are wary of candidates who have moved around from one permanent position to another too quickly, fearing a lack of commitment. Loyalty is an attractive quality to all employers. I am not advocating a move away from a job that makes you happy, but on balance it doesn’t hurt to have an ear open and be receptive to headhunt approaches, some three to five years into a position.

There are clearly more proactive methods of finding a job (sending your CV to an agency, scouring relevant job boards), but this article is aimed at the passive job hunter.

Be accessible

If you aren’t quite motivated enough to make an approach to a recruiter, make sure they can find you. LinkedIn is the most obvious tool. Ensure you have detail on the roles you have performed – list your achievements as well as your skills, think about what sort of key word searches you would like to appear on, take time to connect to relevant people. A private, but often checked, e-mail address is advisable. 

Less obvious tools include:

  • User groups – join relevant user groups or discussion forums, involve yourself in an online community relevant to your skill set. 
  • Twitter – following businesses or individuals relevant to your skills and/or tweeting will raise your profile and increase your virtual network of people who could find you your dream job.
  • Events – attend seminars or industry events should your budget allow.

Play nice

The headhunt call could be the start of a long-term business relationship. It may turn out that you don’t move positions for quite some time, but a relationship with a recruiter who has a good understanding of their market can be a useful thing. 

If you know of a good candidate to refer or you can share market information that isn’t sensitive and won’t compromise your position, then do. A good definition of networking I once read was to help others out in the hope that they will do the same for you.

Be honest

While it is healthy to know what else is out there, no one likes having their time wasted. Be truthful about your motivations and earnings, and if an opportunity really doesn’t sound right, going along for the ride is inadvisable.

Be selective

Partner with one or two recruiters you trust and agree plans regarding which organisations will be approached when. Finding time to meet your recruiter will be beneficial, as they will be better equipped to represent you and you can decide if this is the person to trust to make discreet enquiries on your behalf.

It could be you

It isn’t just CIOs who get headhunted; in demand IT skills across the board present fertile hunting grounds for active recruiters.

Allowing yourself to be headhunted presents somewhat of a no-lose situation – a new opportunity will need to be significantly better than your current one, and at the end of the process you might just find out that you are in exactly the right place.


After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University (Software Engineering), Jason Addicott joined the IT recruitment industry in 1995. He has held the role of  consultant, team leader, manager and managing director of  global PLCs and boutique, specialist IT recruitment agencies. He is currently a director at WBRS, the IT & IT sales recruitment firm. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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