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At the moment I'm looking for a new working opportunity (software engineering), and I've found a company I would like to work for.

A head hunter offers me his service to introduce me to the company.

Now I've two choices:

A) Allow the head hunter to give the introduction.

B) Perform the introduction by myself.

My question are: What are the pro's and cons of approaching a new company by a head hunter, and what are the pro's and cons of approach a new company by yourself?

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I think the only legitimate answer is, it depends:

  • Is the employer open to using headhunters? Sometimes, employers will post jobs themselves, but headhunters will see those postings and try to shoehorn their candidates into the role, even though the employer hasn't specifically planned on using a headhunter. Besides cold calling you, they may be cold calling the employer, too. That's generally not going to work in your favor. Other times, an employer may post the job themselves, and ask headhunters to help them fill it. Those employers will be more open to headhunter referrals, but it may still be neutral (not in your favor or against you).
  • Does the headhunter have a legitimate, established relationship with that employer? Maybe the employer has specifically asked the headhunter for help with this position, or maybe the employer has been using this headhunter for a long time and trusts their candidates. These are obviously positive things and would be a good reason to let the headhunter introduce you, instead of introducing yourselg.
  • Is the headhunter focused on this region/market/job type? A headhunter who specializes in specific types of jobs may be much better suited to close the deal in a way that's better for everyone. A random headhunter with no real focus may just be trying to grab any commission they can.

When a headhunter reaches out to me, and I'm interested in the opportunity, but I see that the employer is advertizing directly as well, I ask the headhunter a few questions:

  • Has the employer contracted with you to fill this position?
  • Have you worked with this employer before? Do you have any placements that are working there now? What has their experience been like?
  • Can you tell me what the employer is looking for, and why they're open to using recruiters?

Of course, many recruiters are just out for a quick buck, and will say whatever they think you need to hear - but these people are usually easy to weed out based on how slimy they sound. Talented, successful recruiters will not have a problem being honest with you and if you find a good recruiter who has a strong connection with an employer, submitting through them can definitely make a difference. That difference may come just from having your resume "float to the top" but it may also come in more direct ways - the recruiter may be able to coach you on some resume modifications in order to focus on what they know the employer is looking for, or they may be able to coach you on what to prep for the interview, for instance.

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It depends on how much vetting the recruiter is doing and what their relationship is with the company.

If they are just coming in "off the street" and saying "here's a person I haven't worked with before, and haven't tested, whose resume seems to match", then as a hiring manager the additional 20%-ish fee they want is a big negative. I would prefer a direct applicant in that case.

If a recruiter I have already engaged comes to me and says "here's a person, we have already vetted them and done technical testing and checked their references," then I now have a candidate that has passed a number of quality checks and I'm happy to pay the 20% to hire more quickly.

Obviously there's wiggle room between the two (up to and including them just lying about having vetted you), but those are the ends of the spectrum.

I am currently doing this exact exercise - I have a position posted on job boards and have retained a recruiter looking for candidates for a 20% cut. The recruiter promises me they'll be presenting me candidates with references from their network, and will perform technical testing, and will find me a replacement if in the first 90 days we determine the hire is a dud. I make sure and challenge the recruiter on what they've done on each candidate to ensure they're adding value. In the meantime, I go through the ~100 resumes from the job board and cull out the 90% that are pure junk. Ideally from one of those two paths, people suitable for the gig emerge.

The third option though, a random recruiter I have not engaged and haven't worked with before cold-contacts me saying "here's a resume," I will generally ignore them unless the resume, or the spiel from the recruiter, really (and I mean really) jumps out at me.

So ask what their relationship is with the company and what they need to know about you. That will shine a light on whether the company will perceive them as adding value or not.

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