Article, The difference between headhunters & recruiters, by Paul Coppcutt :

by Paul Copcutt


Titles can be mis-leading as, like many companies, each recruitment firm has different definitions and responsibilities. What is more important to you, the candidate, when dealing with a TPR (third party recruiter), is their relationship with the hiring company they are representing.


There are probably three main distinctive TPR's - retained, contingency and agency.




The retained firm mostly works on more senior roles and is paid by the hiring company in installments as they move through the recruitment process. They are probably the most proactive in terms of researching who is who in business.


They are probably the most proactive in terms of researching who is who in business and invest a lot of time and resources tracking quality candidates, networking and paying a team of researchers to keep up to date with latest industry developments.


Retained firms usually do little in terms of advertising and rely much more heavily on developing long term relationships with potential candidates. You will have more success in getting to meet a retained recruiter if you are introduced or referred by either one of their clients or candidates.




Contingency firms are only paid when they successfully introduce a new employee. Very often they are competing on the same positions with other contingency firms and therefore only expect to be successful on a percentage of positions they work on at any one time.


Some contingency firms do have exclusive agreements with their clients for a period of time. This can be beneficial in some cases because the recruiter is more motivated to find the right person quickly because they will likely be the only one submitting candidates.


With the advent of on line job boards, the cost of advertising has dramatically dropped and this makes it an affordable option even for firms who are results oriented.




Finally agencies tend to work on more junior roles that can either be permanent or contract, they are working, quite often, to very tight deadlines because the client needs tend to be very immediate.


In all cases, to varying degrees, recruitment firms rely on their database and referrals from past candidates, knowing how relevant and up to date a recruiters database is should be one of your questions. If they are trying to find a job in accounting, for example, but the firm usually only recruits IT people then you might be better off going to a firm who is more specialized. Sometimes that area of expertise can be industry specific or even geographical – make sure you ask the question.


Recruiters at all levels are very often reluctant to disclose, at the early stages, who they are representing. This can be for reasons of confidentiality, but very often is because they do have the assignment exclusively and are concerned that other recruiters will find out about the vacancy and try to submit their own candidates.


Have you ever been asked the question by a recruiter – Who else have you interviewed with recently? They are not asking this question out of a total genuine interest in you job search, they also want to know if there are other similar vacancies that some of their other candidates are suitable for and can be submitted. You should certainly look to build a relationship with a good recruiter and when you get close to offer stage you need to keep them informed so that the right opportunity does not slip by you, however be cautious as to who and what you tell them in the early stages. I have all too often heard of recruiters calling companies that a candidate has recently interviewed with to ‘kill’ that candidate in the eyes of the hiring company in order to get their own candidates considered.


As for the relationship with their client any recruiter should be able to answer the following five questions;


* Are you working on the position exclusively?
* How long has it been open?
* Why is the position open?
* How long have you worked with this client?
* What has been the profile of successful candidates that you have placed with this client?


If the answers are vague or not forthcoming you may be putting your effort in the wrong direction.



Paul Copcutt is Canada's leading personal brand consultant, combining a passion for people with a realization that strengths and specialization are the keys to success. Experiencing corporate downsizing during the last recession, Paul knows what it takes to stand out in a depressed job market. This resulted in his gathering successful experience in biotech (with no degree or science qualifications), consumer goods and executive recruitment in North America and Europe.

Recognised by Forbes as a leading personal brand strategist globally he is a much sought after speaker and media resource, interviewed by Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears in The Globe & Mail.

He is also passionate about the next generation being informed and inspired to personally brand themselves successfully and seeks corporately sponsored opportunities to get that message in to schools, colleges and universities that will enable him to reach a million students in the next 10 years.