Let headhunters peek in your closets. And pay them well to do it.

Aaron Bernardi
3 min readNov 30, 2018

There are some shitty headhunters out there. You shouldn’t work with them.

But this isn’t about choosing a headhunter; I’m assuming you know what to look for (if not, here’s a hint — it’s not someone whose strategy for filling your next vacancy lives and dies with the words “linked” and “in”).

Instead, let’s consider a few ways to help you have a good experience with the next recruiter you retain.

First, pay them well. Don’t overpay, but don’t negotiate them into the ground, either. If I were to ask you or the chief executive (assuming that isn’t you) of your company how important good hiring is, I’m sure your response would fall somewhere between “critical “ and “paramount.” So if you’re going to pay for someone to help you with recruitment, choose the best partner you can afford.

Yes, recruiters, like plumbers and lawyers and tires and sushi, are available at cut-rate prices. But if a headhunter quotes you a fee and then readily agrees to your demand to chop that fee by a third, ask yourself why. Then think of that time nine-dollar all-you-can-eat unagi seemed like an excellent idea.

Next, insist that your search partner meet every decision maker in the hiring process. Notice I didn’t say let them meet your decision makers. Demand it. I’m looking at you, human resources leader. I know you’re the trusted advisor among the executive group and a filter for those leaders who don’t think they have time to meet with vendors. I know you have command of what’s best for the company. But I also know that during a senior-level candidate search involving multiple decision makers there will be differences of opinion, and while those discrepancies might seem slight to you, they have a near-magical ability to send a late-stage search into the ditch and prolong the project by weeks or even months. An hour of everyone’s time at the launch of a search, where everybody hears and agrees on what will define success, is a part of the alchemy that leads to on-point and on-time hiring.

Finally, tell us where it hurts. Your employment branding materials likely broadcast what’s great about your company, but your flaws are also a surprisingly useful tool for talent attraction, when placed in the hands of an adept search partner. Think of it this way: Your recruiter is (or at least should be) trying to attract candidates who, frankly, don’t need to hear from you in the first place — people with a record of success, who consistently exceed targets, and who are presumably shown appreciation by their current employers for their excellence. So what do you have to offer?

The answer may lie in your internal challenges: Attrition. Bloated inventory. Ineffective communications. Even deep-seated cultural issues. To the extent that a little transparency won’t alert the Securities & Exchange Commission, open up your closets. Allowing your recruiter to appropriately share your battles with the right people in the market will create a balanced conversation, which begets credibility, which in turn breeds trust. And it’s more than likely that, for all the success a desirable candidate might be having in their current job, the chance to fix even a small part of your organization could be appealing enough to entice them to give you serious consideration.