recruiter vs headhunter

Recruiters vs. Headhunters: What's the Difference?

Looking for employees can be difficult, particularly in specialized fields. Calling in an expert to locate the best new employees can be extremely beneficial and save a lot of time, for all parties. Recruiters and headhunters are kind of like the opposite of an employment agency. Rather than finding jobs for the unemployed, they’re looking for to fill a job for a company.

When you walk into an interview with either a headhunter or recruiter, understanding the difference can help you answer questions more appropriately—because you'll know exactly what that person’s roll is. Here’s a look at exactly what the difference is between recruiters and headhunters. 

What is a Recruiter?

Job recruiters generally work for a single company or organization. This means when they search for an employee to fill a position, it’s usually a position for the company they work for. The position can be very specific, or it might be more generalized. For example, the military often send recruiters to job fairs or similar functions where they can talk to interesting individuals and look for ideal candidates.

In addition, because recruiters work for a specific organization, they have significantly more information about the company and/or position itself. By speaking with a recruiter, future employees can making smarter decisions before actually applying for a job.  

To do their job best, recruiters rely on much more than job fairs and interviews. Recruiting tools often consist of a variety of recruitment software, such as de-biasing software or automatic screenings. Debiasing software can eliminate the unconscious biases that slip into hiring, allowing for a greater variety of applicants, and automatic screening is a tool that reduces hiring time.

Ultimately, recruiters search through pools of applicants to find the one person with the right skills and attitude best suited for an open position. Their responsibility also entails offering contacting the individual who got the job, and everyone else who didn’t. 

What is a Headhunter?

Headhunting is very similar to recruiting, but it has its own attributes. While recruiters usually (though not always) work for the hiring company, headhunters are generally part of a third party company. Headhunters are often employed when a position needs to be filled, and filled fast -- either because it’s a critical part of the company or because the job has been unfilled for a long period of time. 

Contrary to recruiters, this often leaves headhunters with a very limited view of the position they’re trying to fill. They’re unlikely to know much about many of the key aspects of a position that job seekers needs to know. Additionally, because headhunters are generally outsourced, this means their pay depends on filling the position—contrary to recruiters, who are salaried to find people for the company.

Another important difference is that headhunters may be hired by the company to fill the position, or by the unemployed to find a position they would be appropriate for (and they can be paid by either party).

Headhunters and recruiters both may also work in specialized areas—for example, executive headhunters work specifically to fill executive positions within companies, and so their talents lay in seeing if candidates are best suited to executive jobs. 

Last Updated: November 19, 2021