by Stephen Hickmore : What is the difference between a skate and a head-hunter? One is a scum-sucking, spineless, bottom feeder and the other is a fish!

Ho, hum  I’ve been hearing this joke every now and then for years with reference to my profession. I have also heard the same jibe targeting Lawyers and estate agents. Yes it is kind of funny, and my intention is not to stand in defence of all head-hunters and recruiters. However, the implication is that we are all cut from the same cloth and tarred with the same brush.

Head-hunting is a direct method of recruitment, the difference between this and traditional advertising and selection can be illustrated with the following analogy:

Advertising and selection is like standing at the bottom of an apple tree and shaking the trunk, normally the bad apples are the first to fall. One picks up the motley selection of fruit and selects the best from a bad bunch. Head-hunting is like placing a ladder against the same tree, climbing to the top and selecting the ripest juiciest apples.

Head-hunting or Search recruitment is a tried, tested and accepted method and should be considered as an effective part of recruiting along with a good social media and traditional advertising strategy. It is important to remember that most of the talent is probably working and may well not be actively looking for a new opportunity.

The good old Oxford English dictionary defines head-hunting as:-

  • The practice among some peoples of collecting heads of dead enemies as trophies
  • The practice of filling (usually senior) business positions by approaching a suitable person employed elsewhere.

The first definition I have not tried for a while. But, the second is what a skilled recruiter uses to find the best possible person to fill a vacancy, and therefore affords his client every opportunity to interview the “ripest apples”

There are Ethics though, It is a definite no-no to approach employees of a client company or candidates you have already placed in positions.

I find it rare indeed that a selected candidate for a search phone call will object. After all who would not like the suggestion of improved prospects and opportunities? I have never heard anyone give a negative reaction to what is an incredibly flattering compliment. In some circumstances a top professional may gauge his value by the number of approaches he gets from head-hunters. He may well be concerned if the calls stop.

Sometimes recruiters are accused of manipulating people’s careers and decisions. Occasionally I hear people claiming that they have been “head-hunted” for a certain position, giving the impression that this was an involuntary action of some kind.

I have yet to hear of an employee being dragged kicking and screaming to the recruiter’s office then tied to a chair and forced to sign a letter of appointment with a strong light shining in their eyes! Then following two days of sleep deprivation forced to stand in front of their present boss twitching and blurting out the words “I resign!!”

Perhaps an employer who is afraid that his managers may be enticed by a recruiter should look within and think carefully about how they treat their employees. It is not only money, one has to look at all other areas. Such as training and development, promotional prospects, time off, relationships with fellow workers, the scope and interest of the job, “are we listening to our managers?” If a company becomes an employer of choice then they are well on their way to being “Head-hunter proof”


Being a recruiter is a tough job, it requires an intimate knowledge of an industry, it’s players and it’s clients changing needs. Recruiters need to be aware of the responsibility they have in giving honest advice. Making a career move is a very important decision, is stressful and a mistake has far reaching ramifications. Recruitment   should never be the domain of the salesperson who is only interested in the commission. Or the “CV Cowboys” who never dis-mount and see either candidate or client, they just send e mail upon e mail of CV’s and hope they may stick with no thought for the person behind the paper. Recruiters need to understand the responsibility they have towards candidates, the industry and their clients. Quite simply they need to “Care”

There are scum-sucking spineless bottom feeders in our business, fact. But often a vacancy is given out to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to phone. How will these random recruiters represent a company? Audit the agencies you use, make sure they have the same ethical values you hold so high. Using the “fly-by-nights” and the “CV Cowboys” will only perpetuate bad business practices. Perhaps find a few agencies you trust.

There are ethics in head-hunting and recruitment. If you select the right recruiter with a sound track record and ethics who cares, this will pay dividends for you and your company. Also you will be helping to clean up the recruitment industry, then perhaps I won’t need to suffer through any more “fishy” jokes.


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