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15 Ways To Evaluate Headhunters And Recruiters

Written by: Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


When I began to work as a recruiter many years ago, I knew very little. I looked for square pegs for square holes and conducted myself as little more than a basic screener. I would ask questions that reflected a mental checklist — Have you done this? Have you done that? How did you go about doing this? How did you go about doing that?

man and woman sitting down talking to each other

With time, effort, and a deep drive to work and be world-class at my profession, I slowed down and asked a better class of questions to get to know a person and what made them effective at what they did at work, or an institutional customer and how they evaluated people for the role they were trying to fill. Slowing down made me less transactional, more careful, and more caring about my work.

Here are a few things to notice as you speak with a headhunter that will allow you to decide whether you should trust their recommendations.

  1. Top headhunters exhibit behaviors that are consistent with the qualities they look for in the people they represent. If you pay attention, you'll notice they SEEM honest when they ask for your help with finding someone for a client. Keep talking to them, not because they are honest. The more you listen to them talk, the more likely it is that you will learn whether they actually ARE honest.

  2. They are easy to deal with because they are courteous, respectful, direct, and concise. They are not sneaky.

  3. They don't waste time pretending to know something they don't or play games with you.

  4. They don't exaggerate when speaking about themselves or their client. They make you feel important.

  5. They do not seem desperate.

  6. They don't speak quickly (unless they are extremely caffeinated). They listen to what you say and don't say, and dig in deeper to learn more.

  7. They respond to questions to the best of their abilities and don't makeup answers when they are unsure. They are honest about what they don’t know and get answers for you.

  8. They show respect for you and are knowledgeable about their client, the position they are attempting to fill (or the person they are representing if you trying to hire someone).

  9. Good headhunters exhibit integrity by being dependable and honest.

  10. They keep their promises by returning your calls, texts, and emails. They are thorough. The questions they ask make this obvious.

  11. A headhunter won't just ask for your resume but will speak with you extensively to understand more about you, your work, your impact as well as your influence. They will actually be curious about your work, your qualifications, your professional interests, and your objectives.

  12. They'll give advice if you ask for it and will be transparent with the process in order to manage your expectations. Yes, there may be delays, but they will walk you through what to expect in the search, how you should prepare for each interview whether they be phone, video, or in-person, and offer a timeline for each step.

  13. Do they appear knowledgeable about the market for what you do (or the kind of person you are trying to hire)? Thorough responses show a depth of understanding that will help you land the job or an employee if you're hiring.

  14. Not least of all, a quality headhunter will manage your expectations. If you appear to be a good fit, they will try to arrange for an interview quickly and, at the very least, alert you of any delays. They will also let you know if you don't fit what their client is looking for. They won't apologize for their decision not to refer you. They'll talk about "the miss" in your background. If you are trying to hire someone, they will give you competitive intelligence about how your ideas for the role can make it possible or more difficult to find someone.

  15. Based on your conversation with them, could they write a good executive brief for their client about me based on the conversation? If you're hiring someone, could they create a job description that focused on the skills, background, and personality traits required for success in the position? The headhunter is not very good (or the conversation wasn't very good from their perspective and they don't have the integrity to tell you) if the initial call was brief Remember, even if your initial screening conversation with a good headhunter doesn't result in you getting interviewed for a position, they are the kind of people you want to have a long-term connection with.

Although headhunters like these may seem uncommon, there are many very good ones out there. Remember, sometimes the reason the headhunter doesn't deliver results has nothing to do with them. It has to do with you and your unwillingness to open up to them and reveal your personality.

Too often, job hunters want Mommy or Daddy headhunters to deliver a new job to them without expending much effort. They don't take time to investigate the people who will represent them and waste too much time with requests that are not worth their effort. Then, they complain to anyone who will (pretend to) listen. The same is true of organizations that recycle job descriptions and don't make leaders available to the search firm they hire.

Do these attributes sound like anyone you've already spoken to or worked with?

For a few of my clients, one of the saddest days was when I told them I was transitioning from search to coaching.

“But, why,” one exclaimed. “Aren’t we paying you enough?”

“Yes, but now I’m going to be a force for good,” I said in my best superhero voice.

We laughed and then he hired me to coach him in his job search.

Follow Jeff on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or visit his website for more info! Read more from Jeff!


Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine People hire Jeff Altman to give them no bs job search advice and coaching globally because he makes getting a job much easier for people. He has written 11 books and guides to job search and hiring including "The Ultimate Job Interview Framework" and "The Right Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and is the host of No BS Job Search Advice Radio, the #1 podcast in Apple Podcasts for job search with more than 2600 episodes, as well as on YouTube.


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