Sunday, June 05, 2005

Stick a Headhunter in a Two-Thousand Person Call Center

“Can you imagine sticking a couple top-rated headhunters in a two-thousand person call center and asking them to find passive candidates to fill all of their positions?”

There has been a lot of talk regarding corporate recruiters, headhunters, and the need for corporate recruiters to be more like headhunters. The most recent example is Lou Adler’s article, “So You Want To Be a Headhunter.” The discussion itself is always good. If nothing else it reminds us of all the tools available to us as recruiting professionals. To be honest though I have a different perspective on this whole discussion.

First, most of the corporate recruiters I know have come from a variety of backgrounds. Many of them have been on the agency side at one point or another and have acted as what one might consider a “headhunter”. So I don’t look at it as much of a distinction between corporate recruiting and headhunting. I see the distinction coming from the type of positions that are being filled.

Recruiters need to have a toolbox that ranges from traditional advertising to cold calling/networking—both on the agency side and on the corporate side. Most of the blogs and articles I’ve read focus on corporate recruiters needing to sharpen their ability to headhunt. What about search firms? I’ve worked with headhunters that aren’t as good at filling roles as corporate recruiters and have seen them place ads like the rest of us. To me, a good recruiter isn’t a headhunter or a “corporate recruiter.” They are professionals who understand the business problem and develop a solution to solve it. The best recruiters, whether on the agency side or corporate side, have this ability. They are business consultants.

Let me give you an example. My old manager went over to a T-Mobile call center in Bend, Oregon. Both Waggener Edstrom (pr agency) and T-Mobile are corporate environments. Now the distinction between the two comes from the type of skills needed to do the job. At Waggener Edstrom the majority of our hires are exempt level, niche, hi-tech and innovation focused PR professionals. Do we advertise? Yes, but less than 5% of our candidates come from advertising. All of our recruiters have to act like “headhunters.” We need to network, use referrals, cold call, research and do whatever it takes to find our people. When my old manager was with Wagged he played this role.

Now let’s take T-Mobile. Their call center is hiring non-exempt, entry-level customer service reps. They hire in very high volume. In this case you are going to have job fairs, advertise and use many traditional means of recruitment. They also use a referral program. With any type of skill set or job people know like people. So the referrals work in both scenarios.

Now let’s take search firms, agencies, and headhunters. It’s pretty much a similar model. If you are a temporary agency you are going to operate on a similar model to a T-Mobile call center. If you are an executive search firm you are going to operate more similar to a Waggener Edstrom. Both agencies and corporations use both models in many cases. At T-Mobile you might deploy traditional recruitment tactics for the call center and more of a “headhunting” model for a call center manager. Many agencies also have temporary and permanent search divisions that may use both methods or some combination of the two.

It’s not one or the other and I don’t fully agree that corporations should just focus on getting good at “headhunting”. Can you imagine sticking a couple great headhunters in a two-thousand person call center and asking them to find passive candidates to fill all of their positions? That would be a fun experiment! They would probably sink pretty fast unless they learned how to get good at recruiting volume. I think we can learn from both sides. There are times we may have to recruit in volume and there are professional recruiters out there that know how to do this and can teach a thing or two to headhunters, and vice versa.

It’s not headhunting versus “corporate recruiting”. It’s knowing when to deploy the right methodology for the given business scenario.


Dennis Smith said...

Great post - I am a firm believer that what we do every day in the corporate world of recruiting is akin to "headhunting." Terrific read - thanks,


Anonymous said...

Great Post. I referenced it today on

Can you put up a couple posts a day? That would be great!!