What is the Difference between Headhunting and Recruitment?

While headhunting is a specialised job, recruitment is more functional in nature. Recruitment can be handled by a team of in-house recruiters or by professional recruiting firms, whereas headhunting needs the active involvement of the board of directors of the company, including the top management.

The terms recruitment and headhunting are often used interchangeably, but are they exactly the same things? If not, what is the difference between recruitment and headhunting?

To begin with, both of these are very different in many ways. To find out the difference between recruitment and headhunting, let us first understand what each term means.

What is hiring or recruitment?

Recruitment is best defined as the exhaustive process of sourcing and finding the right candidates from out of a pool of job seekers to fill up open job positions in the company. Therefore, recruitment is mainly about filling up vacant positions in the company with qualified and right-fit candidates.

This involves a broader process of sourcing, screening, recruitment and selection of candidates for the company, wherein, a recruiter or a team of recruiters and hiring managers work together to fill up positions.

So, when one uses the term “recruitment”, it doesn’t generally mean recruitment of the top management. As discussed, the term is mainly used to fill up the lower ranks rather than for filling the top executive roles.

The people involved in recruiting often serve as the link between the employer and the job seekers, providing their services to both the parties.

What is headhunting?

Allow us to explain this with an example: Salil Parekh is the CEO of Infosys. Before joining Infosys as the CEO, he served as the deputy CEO of Capgemini, another software technology firm.

How did Mr Parekh land the job as Infosys’ CEO? What happened here was, Salil Parekh was headhunted by Infosys to spearhead their software technology business.

This transition materialised because Mr Parekh was already a big name as the member of the group management board at Capgemini, and was leading the business as deputy CEO. At the time he was headhunted by Infosys. So, his experience in the second most executive role at the software technology firm became a desirable skill for headhunters at Infosys. They were sure that he was perfect to lead the company as their top executive.

Hopefully, this example has properly explained headhunting. In simple terms, headhunting is also referred to as executive search and is often associated with the process of scouting and recruiting individuals for the top management positions in the organization. Headhunting, essentially, means the process of finding exclusive or highly skilled candidates for top-level positions.

Therefore, headhunting is an exclusive process limited to hiring one or 2 top people for the company, unlike recruiting, which is usually a mass hiring drive.

Headhunting is more a proactive process, wherein, the employer is looking for an eligible candidate regardless of whether the candidate is currently actively searching for a new job or not. This type of hiring is generally undertaken by the top management such as the board of directors, chairman, HR head, and other executive members of the organization.

Headhunting vs Recruitment

Now that both the terms have been understood, let us check the major difference between recruitment and headhunting.

  • Scope of open job positions

The scope of job positions is the most significant distinction in headhunter vs recruiter or headhunter vs recruitment agency.

In general, headhunters focus on hiring for limited open positions only. The purpose and scope of the headhunter are limited only to those top open job postings, which they are required to fill. The headhunting is generally done by the company board members or the top management, to fill the executive-level roles. These are top roles and, hence, are hard to fill as they usually require top experienced and highly skilled candidates who have had considerable experience working in top positions of other companies.

Whereas, recruiters are individuals or firms who undertake the overall recruitment or hiring process of the company. In general, recruiters have a wider scope of scouting for candidates as they have to fill a comparatively large number of positions. They are usually concerned with hiring for entry-level, lower-tier or middle-level job positions. They mostly hire for several different roles. Recruiters usually have a wider knowledge of the industry as their primary job is recruiting candidates.

  • The kind of job

When we talk of headhunter vs staffing agency for recruitment, it boils down to the kind of job each one recruits for. The headhunter’s role is often limited to hiring for a singular role. For instance, if the company wants or needs to hire a CFO or the HR head, then the headhunting will most probably be done by the board of directors.

They will appoint one of the directors as the headhunter who will be in charge of the search committee that will scout for eligible candidates. In order to hire for CFO level roles, sometimes, the chairman and/or MD could also be present during the selection process. When the vacant position is filled, the process of headhunting is dissolved.

The recruiting team is generally an in-house, full-time team of the HR department or are hired professional recruiters whose sole purpose is recruiting and all activities associated with the process of hiring. They handle the overall recruitment process of the company, such as job ads posting, sourcing for candidates, candidate engagement, interview, selection and onboarding of new employees.

  • Time to hire

This is the major difference in headhunter vs recruitment agency. In general, recruiters or a recruitment agency has to deal with a large number of job applicants for given job positions. Therefore, they comparatively spend less time on each candidate as they have to entertain a large number of candidates. Their focus is on quantity rather than the quality of recruitment. The faster they fill the jobs the faster they earn.

As headhunting is generally about filling top-level positions, they are more focused on quality rather than quantity. Top positions require the person to be the best in the industry, therefore, headhunters are entrusted with the job to search for the best in the respective skillset. Thus, one needs to invest considerable time and effort in finding the perfect candidate, right from gathering information about prospects, rapport building, until the final selection of the candidate.

Therefore, sometimes headhunters spend months researching a particular prospect only to switch later to a different prospect due to minor differences in the key required and existing skills. So, headhunters must find the perfect candidate before finalizing the job offer.

Headhunting and recruitment are poles apart in their scope and functions. While headhunting is a specialised job, recruitment is more functional in nature. The recruitment activity can be handled by a team of in-house recruiters or by professional recruiting firms, whereas headhunting needs the active involvement of the board of directors of the company, including the top management, as the job positions are more to do with the executive level roles.

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