• Wed, Jun 1 2011

Headhunters Need Not Apply: The Horror Stories

Once upon a time I went to a headhunter. I had been laid off from my job and desperate to find anything. I was clear in what I wanted: something in a creative field, non-corporate, and ideally, an office that was on the smaller size. I wasn’t looking for perfection. I was looking for a place where I could work and pay my rent so I could stay in the city I loved.

The headhunter, a woman in her late 40′s, either didn’t listen to my requests or didn’t care. She had me running all over the city in a suit going to corporate companies from 60th Street to Wall Street. I was in hell.

After several failed interviews, I went to her office to finally put my foot down. I realized it was the height of the recession and many were without jobs, but I also felt that there must be at least a small corner of the city where I could sit behind a desk and get a paycheck. The headhunter knew I wanted to be a writer, that my major had been English, and that like so many others, I had come to New York City to pursue my dream. But I was also realistic about that dream. All my artist and actor friends were bartenders and waitresses. Not having the greatest social skills, or at least not enough to depend on decent tips, I knew the best place for me would be in an office.

When I finally mustered the nerve to explain to the headhunter that I’d really like to be sent on interviews that were at the very least not at some hedge fund, she made her opinions on my dream known.

“You know, Amanda,” she said, “I wanted to own my own restaurant and it didn’t happen. I work here to get by and you need to do the same. It’s ‘cute’ that you want to be a writer, but the sooner you give that silliness up, the happier you’ll be.”

I was shocked. I stared at her blankly as I felt the tears start to well up in my eyes. Then, because if what she had just said wasn’t enough, she continued, “If you’re going to cry about this, maybe you should really look into getting some professional help to deal with your problems.”

I immediately got up, walked out of her office, and through the blurriness of the tears that were then streaming down my face, some how managed to make it to the elevator. I never worked with a headhunter again. And although I’d respond to several more jobs on Craigslist, if the response came back from one, I politely responded: “I don’t work with headhunters.”

While I’m sure there are those who have had positive experiences with them, my aversion to them had me set out to see who else had a horror story to tell. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t alone.

This headhunter wanted a discount on products:

“When I first moved to NY, I was working with a temp agency and taking on some freelance projects. One of them was at a popular online store. When the headhunter found out I worked there, the office manager from the temp agency contacted the online store claiming I had promised her a discount the next time she bought something. Which I didn’t, obviously.”

This one may have been looking for something better, or perhaps Mr. Right, while conducting an interview:

“I went to see a headhunter who asked me to meet her at a really out of the way Starbucks. It took me a half hour to get there. She was looking around the room distracted as I spoke. She hadn’t read my resume or any of my clips. Ten minutes later, she said she had to go. I was really qualified for the job and she never even submitted my resume.”

Ouch.

I’m sure there are really amazing stories about headhunters getting someone their dream job, but I’ve just never heard them. I know when some people first move to New York, one of the first steps for a lot of us is to find a headhunter so we can quickly start making the necessary cash to stay in this ridiculously expensive city. But after my experience, I wondered who was benefiting most for the relationship. If a headhunter makes a percentage of whatever they negotiate for your yearly salary, do they really have your needs and wants in mind? Maybe some do, but I’m sure some don’t, too.

Despite what that headhunter told me that morning, I didn’t give up my “cute” dream. I never gave up on that “silliness,” and when I look around at where I sit now, I’m so glad I didn’t take a word of her so-called advice to heart. I’ve been meaning to drop her a note, actually. Maybe she needs someone to tell her that she should pursue owning that restaurant of hers because, honestly, she’s not very good at the whole headhunter thing.

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  • Kiki

    I have had mixed experiences with headhunters, and there seem to be significant differences in attitude based on the size of the company, the geographic region they are in, and the professional area. My first experience was a positive one; he contacted me based on a Monster.com resume. He worked as a one-man-shop in California, specializing in recruiting for my profession. The initial call we had made me feel a little like a used car, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. In the end, it paid off- not with job placement, but with networking through interviews, resume and cover letter guidance, and narrowing down the sort of firms I’m best suited for.
    At the same time, I also tried working with temp agencies, and mega-recruiting firms. These proved to be useless, and my experiences with their apathy were similar to Amanda’s in this article.

    When it comes to working with a recruiter, the best option may be to trust your gut. Not cross them off entirely, but think of them like your college adviser in the professional world. They should be supportive, useful, and good resources. They should help further your goals and help you focus on what is most important to you. If that’s not what you’re getting from your recruiter, then switch. There are a lot more head hunters out there than there are yous!

  • Amanda Chatel

    I love this comment, Kiki. You’re so right – “there are a lot more headhunters out there than there are yous!”