Working in technology recruiting for quite a few years now, (since the days of mailing resumes), I’ve been referred to as a headhunter quite a few times by various people. However, unlike many people assume, a headhunter and a recruiter are not the same thing. In fact ‘headhunter’ is somewhat of an outdated term.
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Some recruiters or search professionals are even offended by the term headunter. Instead, many people prefer the term ‘direct hire specialist.’ I have been doing this for 20 years, and you can call me what you like. I believe the best recruiters are people that are a hybrid of both headhunting and recruiting. The best people will use their social media networks, headhunt, work their databases, and publish your jobs to find you the perfect candidate.When you need a tech specialist in a flash, a person’s title is not going to be as important as how fast they can find you your ideal candidate. However, I thought I’d use today’s blog post to clarify the difference between the two terms, for arguments sake.

Headhunter (AKA Executive Search Agents or Executive Search Professionals):

An informal term for an ’employment recruiter’ that finds qualified candidates for job positions, otherwise referred to as an ‘executive search agents’ or ‘executive search professionals.’

Executive Search Agents/Professionals:

  • Have an extensive network of contacts in their industry.
  • Often have been executives themselves and migrated to the search industry.
  • Have detailed and specific knowledge in their specific area of expertise.
  • Have researchers that do all the sourcing of candidates.
  • Operate at the most senior level of executive positions.
  • Are involved throughout the hiring process: conduct interviews, present candidates to clients selectively.
  • Typically have long-lasting relationships with clients spanning many years.
  • Their main responsibility is finding the ideal candidate for their clients.


A recruiter is someone who finds people to fill job positions within a company, non-profit company, sports team, military, etc. A recruiter is either hired as part of a company’s human resources department or as an ‘internal recruiter,’ or on an outsourced basis as a ‘third party recruiter.’

Internal Recruiter (AKA In-House Recruiter or Corporate Recruiter):

  • Employee of a company in the human resources (HR) department.
  • May have various job roles, doing both HR tasks alongside recruiting, or may spend all their time dedicated to recruiting.
  • May work as permanent employee or be hired on as contractor specifically for recruiting, and move from company to company
  • Their main responsibility is to filter candidates as per the requirements of each client.

Third Party (Agency) Recruiter:

  • A third party recruiter acts as an independent contact between its client companies and the candidates it recruits for a position.
  • Works for multiple companies at once.
  • These firms or individuals specialize in client relationships and finding candidates, with minimal or no focus on other HR tasks.
  • Boolean Search Experts.
  • Normally do sourcing, interviewing, and sometimes account management.
  • Strong interviewing and screening skills – able to “find the needle in the haystack.”
  • Some recruiters tend to specialize in permanent, full-time, direct-hire positions or contract positions, and occasionally in both.
  • Their main responsibility is to filter candidates as per the requirements of each client.

When selecting somebody to find staff for you or interviewing a recruiter, be sure to ask them where they find their candidates. Ask them to give you examples of candidates they have placed using social media. Now that you know the difference between terms, it should help when you are making choices on staffing.

Is your job about finding candidates? What do you like to be called?

Should everybody be called staffing professionals?


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