Guide to IT Headhunters

Wednesday Oct 31st 2007 by James Maguire
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A top IT headhunter explains how to use job recruiters to find a more lucrative tech position.

In the bad old days of 2001, tech headhunters (also called “job recruiters” or a “placement specialists”) were driven out of business. No one was hiring, so who needed recruiters?

But as tech hiring has picked up, headhunters are once again glued to their cell phones.

“Now everybody and their brother is getting back into the business,” says Stuart Taylor, co-founder and chairman of Integrated Search Services, an IT staffing organization.

In fact, “There are lots of people in the [job] search business who weren’t there 15 minutes ago,” he tells Datamation.

Which means that before a tech professional uses the services of a headhunter, that IT pro should know the rules of the game. In other words: buyer beware.

Rule One: Don’t Ever Pay a Headhunter

An IT professional should never pay a job recruiter, Taylor notes. It’s employers who pay the headhunter’s fees.

"For information technology people, there should be no circumstance under which the candidate would ever pay.”

Not that some firms won’t try to charge tech workers. Some companies, referred to in the job placement industry as “retail outplacement” firms, charge hefty fees.

“They charge you a bunch of money and they tell you how to put a resume together and claim they’re going to put it in front of hundreds of employers – that’s not what you want to do,” he says. “

These firms “are for people who are dazed and confused and want to determine if they want to start an herb farm.” They’re not for technology workers.

This no-pay policy is particularly true in today's tech hiring environment, in which the demand for workers exceeds the supply. In 2001, in the wake of the tech collapse, it might have been worth considering paying, “because there wasn’t any work, but even then, the market didn’t shift," Taylor says.

In fact, “If anyone says, ‘we’re going to charge you money,’ hang up the phone.”

Spread It Around (But Not Too Much)

Since tech job seekers pay nothing to headhunters, it’s in their best interest to get their resume into the hands of as many headhunters as possible. Especially since these various recruiters are probably not plugged into the same opportunities.

But don't spread it around too much, Taylor notes. “If there’s a big employer in town who works with a bunch of recruiters, suddenly your resume comes from five or six different places.”

(But this downside, he notes, is a slight one, far outweighed by the benefits of widely distributing your resume.)

GIving your resume to, say, six different recruiters is a reasonable number, he says.

Remember, too, that no matter how many headhunters have your resume, search firms offer no magic solution. By Taylor’s estimate, only about one third of tech jobs are filled by recruiters.

“Meaning that two thirds of the time you’re getting hired by people you know or people to whom you were referred,” he says.

The point: Your best “headhunter” is often the colleague in the data center next to you.

Next Page: The Different Types of Tech Job Recruiters

Finding a Headhunter

The term “headhunter” is used to describe a wide array of individuals and firms. To fully understand the job placement industry, realize that there are three tiers of job placement firms:

1) The “million dollar” firms These placement firms – for instance, Korn Ferry – find jobs for CTOs and other upper level management who command salaries in the $500,000 and higher pay range.

2) Mid market firms These organizations find positions for tech professionals who work in the $100,000 to $250,000 range.

3) Broad market firms These headhunters find jobs for professionals in the $50,000 to $125,000 range.

The majority of IT professionals will, of course, be working with headhunters in this third category, who locate jobs paying $50-125k. Within this third level of headhunters there are, again, three sub groups:

A) Contingency search organizations These firms get paid if they find you an IT job; they receive no pay if they don’t place a worker. “What they’re doing is marketing your resume to the existing [hiring] relationships they have contacts with,” Taylor says.

B) Retained search organizations These firms work for employers (often big employers) that hire tech workers. In essence, retained search firms are outsourced recruiters for big IT companies.

C) Consulting firms that do job placement These are regional and national firms that supply IT workers on a limited-time contract basis, ranging from two weeks to six months, or longer. These consultancies are sometimes called “staff augmentation” firms, meaning they augment a company’s staff on a short term basis. These firms sometimes find permanent jobs for tech workers. (Alternately, some consultancies are “project firms,” meaning they handle short term IT projects and hire their own short-term tech staff as needed. Project firms rarely find permanent jobs for staffers because they don’t want to lose staff.)

Resources for Finding Job Recruiters

As mentioned, one of the best ways to find a headhunter is to ask friends (but don’t ask too many friends at work, Taylor cautions).

Additionally, he recommends logging onto Monster and CareerBuilder and looking at the ads, with an eye toward finding a recruiter in your location and/or specialty.

There are also two particularly good resources:

Dictionary of Executive Recruiters

This is a extensive list of job recruiters, accessible for a fee online (or for free at the library). “You spend $50 and you get access to a relatively sophisticated resource that tells you where these people are located, what they specialize in, etc.”

National Association of Personnel Services

This organization offers a free guide to the recruiters who are their members. Click on Membership Directory and search by location or tech specialty.

These two resources aren’t exhaustive, Taylor says, “but if you use those two things, you can at least get a reasonable start.”

Coming in Part Two: What to beware of when dealing with headhunters, and how to chose recruiters based on location and your specialty.

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