difference between recruiters and headhunters

Although the terms “recruiting” and “headhunting” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are distinct, important differences.

The primary difference between recruiting and headhunting is that recruiters pull from a list of interested active job seekers, while headhunters actively pursue any professional with the experience and qualifications required for a position. Headhunters can have an advantage over recruiters because they recruit from the entire talent marketplace, including passive job seekers. When considering working with a recruitment firm, it’s important for companies to be familiar with the services offered and to understand the difference in approaches.

What is Headhunting?

Headhunting entails conducting a specified search to identify the ideal candidate for a particular role, regardless of whether the candidate is active or passive talent. While active candidates are reaching out to their professional networks and sending resumes in response to job openings, passive candidates are currently employed and not seeking new opportunities. For high-level roles with a unique desired skill set, passive candidates are more desirable—they are currently working and gaining industry-specific experience at a competitor. These candidates are not actively seeking new opportunities, but according to a study by Willis Towers Watson, over 70% of employees are willing to leave their organization to advance their career. Because many of the ideal candidates are employed at a direct competitor, headhunters initiate contact with the candidate and facilitate communication between the candidate and company. It’s also common that high-level roles require confidential searches, so many companies choose to hire a headhunting firm to locate top talent and avoid public job postings and word of mouth.

headhunting vs. recruiting people signs

What is Recruiting?

While recruiters also conduct searches for qualified candidates on behalf of companies, their processes and responsibilities are broader. Whether recruiters work for a firm or within the HR department of a company, they scan resumes sent in response to job postings and screen candidates that may be suitable for the role. They also act as the point of contact pertaining to the roles throughout the recruitment process and facilitate communication between the candidates and companies. Recruiters often work on multiple jobs within the same field at once and build relationships with active job-seekers, recommending jobs that they may be suitable for.  

In Conclusion

Headhunters and recruiters both play a vital role in conducting the search and hiring process on behalf of companies. While headhunters conduct comprehensive searches for roles with a limited scope of who is qualified, recruiters vet through active job-seekers and make recommendations of qualified candidates. It’s necessary that companies understand the difference before partnering with a third party to take on the search process for vacant roles