Organizational Wellness

What Is a Headhunter? How They Can Improve Your Hiring Process

May 10, 2024
Last Updated May 10, 2024

Hiring can be a time-consuming process. All too often, it feels like finding a needle in a haystack to find the perfect person. 

As a result, it’s no surprise that 75% of employers all over the globe report difficulties with hiring. 

This is where a headhunter can come in handy. A headhunter, far from being a bounty hunter in an old sci-fi movie, actively improves your hiring process. They’re someone who can do the heavy lifting of hiring and save you those valuable hours — potentially about 30 hours per new employee. 

Discover the details of what a headhunter can do for you and how to choose the right one. 


What Is a Headhunter? 

A headhunter is a third-party company or individual who performs recruiting processes on behalf of your organization. They are often employed at an agency or headhunting company. Your HR team will contact the recruiting agency, who provides a professional who will do the work of finding great talent and encouraging them to apply. 

Headhunting Differ vs. Recruiting: How Are They Different?

While recruiters and headhunters do much of the same work, there’s one main difference between these two approaches: recruiting is done in-house while headhunting is done by an external party. While headhunters are professional recruiters,  your company does not regularly employ them. 

How Do Headhunters Get Paid? 

Headhunters only make money through placing candidates. There are two traditional ways to compensate them: 

  • Commissions: Headhunters earn a percentage of the salary you’ll pay the new hire for the first year. The percentage will vary depending on the individual or organization you commission. This process only happens if the headhunter succeeds at their work. That gives you protection that they’ll exhaust every avenue to find a great addition to your organization. 
  • Retainers: You can also choose to pay a flat fee. The rest of the process works the same as with commissions.  

How Does the Headhunting Process Work?

In general, the purpose of a headhunter is to reduce your hiring workload. The exact steps of this process often look like this: 

Step 1: You hire a headhunter

Set up criteria for choosing a great hiring partner to help you easily find someone who fits what you need. For example, if you’re hiring for a finance position, you might seek out a headhunter who has extensive experience filling those roles. Before they dive into work, you’ll sign a contract and outline what you both expect and the terms of compensation.  

Step 2: They gain an understanding of the opportunity in question 

Before a headhunter can do anything, they need to understand the position or positions you hired them to fill. Often, headhunters are hired for high-paid positions so they will spend time building knowledge on the needed characteristics and background to fill it. 

Step 3: The headhunter sifts through candidate pools

Often these skilled professionals have networks that they can pull from quickly. After all, a part of their job is  building relationships with people who are already employed but are open to new opportunities so they have candidates ready at a moment’s notice. Then when they’re working for you, the headhunter will reach out to that person about the job opening. 

Step 4: If necessary, they network for additional applicants

The professional headhunter will likely know enough people to find a great candidate pool. However, if you’re looking for a niche skill set or background not already in their network, they’ll likely leverage social media and other networking techniques to find the right addition to your workplace if they don't. 

Step 5: Then they review and vet

Once they’ve chosen potential candidates, they’ll often conduct a first-round interview to ensure they’re right for the role before passing them on for you to vet.

Step 6: You receive great candidates

Once they’ve selected options, you receive handpicked applications from the headhunter. That could include completed applications of interested candidates or a ranked list of the headhunters top choices. Alternatively, you could have the headhunter hold interviews and make an offer. In that case, you’ll just begin the onboarding process with the new hire. 

Benefits of Using a Headhunter

The main perk of using a third party for recruiting is to save yourself time. However, employing a headhunter offers numerous other benefits: 

Market Expertise

A headhunter possesses deep, nuanced knowledge of the industry. They also have a deep understanding of the current job market. With that knowledge, they can know exactly where to look for good applicants and how to quickly find great culture adds. 


Headhunters only get paid after they fill a role, so they’re highly motivated to find you the best person quickly. That attitude helps them do quality work very efficiently. 

Fast Results

Normally, hiring can take anywhere from two weeks to 63 days. A headhunter helps you speed that process up by a few weeks. That’s because they likely already know someone who might be a good addition. 

Frees Up HR Staff

You have many responsibilities in HR, and using a third party to take care of some work frees up your staff. Instead of having your people dedicate weeks to recruitment, you can have them focus on internal operations that need attention. 


Sometimes you’re looking to replace someone, and you don’t want that individual to know yet. If that’s the case, a headhunter can keep the entire recruitment process discreet. 

Professional Network

When you hire a headhunter, you’re tapping into their connections. They actively maintain relationships with people and know highly qualified individuals that you wouldn’t know to consider. 

Helpful in Difficult Markets

Sometimes the job market is competitive, and it’s hard to fill every position. Using a headhunter is a way to get an edge in difficult markets. They’ll actively recruit people who are currently employed and in other niche pools. 

Captures Passive Job Seekers

When someone is employed, a job listing is rarely enough to pull them away from their current job. A headhunter, however, can explain to them exactly what they stand to benefit from the position you’re offering. That gives you access to candidates you wouldn’t normally attract.

How to Select a Headhunter for Your Company

Success with a headhunter largely depends on choosing someone who’s a good fit for your organization. In order to find somebody well-suited to deliver the results you’re looking for, consider these best practices.

  • Know what you need. If you have a clear understanding of your needs, you can better select a headhunter who can meet them. 
  • Search online. One of the easiest ways to find someone to recruit for you is by looking through specialized online databases. 
  • Network with colleagues. Other HR colleagues may have tried using a headhunter and could give you tips on who worked for them. 
  • Assess your options. You don’t have to choose the first option you find. Don’t be afraid to request an interview and investigate their experience with placing candidates in similar roles. 
  • Contact references. On top of that, you could also consider asking for a few references before selecting someone. 
  • Define your expectations. Before moving forward, you might write out some kind of contract to outline payment and other specifics. 

Attracting Talent with Wellness Programs

Whether you choose to utilize a headhunter or hire with in-house recruitment, the goal is to find great talent

One way to generate the interest of top talent is to create a focus on holistic wellness at your company. These initiatives are something people actively look for during the job hunt. In 2023, organizations with wellness programs found they had improved talent acquisition. On top of that, 85% of HR leaders reported decreased talent management costs, according to Wellhub research

Ready to start attracting great talent with wellness? Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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