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3 min read

Using Performance Benchmarks to Choose the Right Headhunter

It’s difficult to choose the right agency, let alone the right headhunter.

Sure, you can look up where they specialize, and listen to their sales pitch and history. You could even go as far as checking references (who has time for that?). But even if you do all that, what percent of the time do you think you’d end up working with someone that delivers what’s right for you, right now? How often do you choose the best?

Right. Most of us would probably say it’s a crap shoot. An ability to deliver a good sales pitch, build a great website, and recite an impressive history of success doesn’t actually prove their ability to find the right candidates for you right now. Even if the references are glowing, whose references aren’t?

Still, if you could verify the details in the sales pitch, website claims, and testimonials – even without having that MAGICAL system – then knowing what to look for can increase your chances of making a better choice.

Different Types of Headhunters


Based on data from the BountyJobs marketplace, we’ve found that the best results come from competition between three different types of headhunters:

  1. A specialist headhunter you already know and trust to provide great results. This is a no-brainer: if you already have a specialist who has successfully placed similar candidates for you in the past, absolutely make sure you enlist them to help you with similar roles.
  2. A new specialist that has a proven track record of placing candidates in similar roles, functions and/or geos. While a tried and true headhunter is a great place to start, a little healthy competition can help you reach a different set of candidates and potentially reduce your time to fill. So try to find a specialist that you haven’t worked with in the past to supplement the candidates your existing headhunter is sending over.
  3. A new headhunter that does not typically recruit for your role, but is simply great at sourcing and networking. Again, working with a new headhunter can give you access to an entirely new network of candidates that has been largely untapped by specialized headhunters. This is either because they just so happen to have a great candidate in their network or because they know how to find great candidates through different avenues.

While a little competition is healthy, most headhunters would prefer an exclusive to ensure that their work doesn’t go unrewarded. However, we’ve watched exclusive searches next to jobs with competitions, and the competition seems to make make everyone better. So, if anything but an exclusive scares your headhunter away, you might want to keep looking.

As previously mentioned, it can be difficult to know if the headhunter you’re working with can deliver the right candidates for you, right now, so working with 3 different types of headhunters for any given role can mitigate that risk.

Headhunter Performance Benchmarks


To help you choose those 3 great headhunters, as well as to know if your headhunter is on track once you’ve enlisted them, you should find out about their time to submission, interview rate, time to interview, and time to fill:

Time to submission

How long until the very first resume arrives? How many candidates do they say you should expect per week?

This metric may vary by position and industry, but good headhunters should all offer up a similar time period that’s inside of two weeks. Keep in mind that faster is not necessarily better because a headhunter that sends you a candidate that same day probably already had the candidate in their database, and hasn’t done much sourcing work.

Interview rate

The quality of submitted candidates is just as important, if not more, than the time it takes to submit them. While it’s normal for headhunters to send an unsuccessful first round of candidates, good headhunters will learn how and why they missed so they can adjust.

To make sure your headhunters are sending quality candidates and not just throwing spaghetti against the wall, you should shoot for someone who gets 20-30% of their candidates interviewed.

Time to interview

As mentioned earlier, good headhunters will get you candidates inside of two weeks for the overwhelming majority of jobs, even the really tough to fill.

While you might not interview the first round, your feedback on that first round should nearly guarantee that the second round is worthy of a phone interview. And if 30 days have passed without that happening, your headhunter is clearly struggling.

Time to fill

Of course you are as critical of a component as your headhunter on this one – but you should still hold them responsible for their part in time to fill. That being said, on jobs with healthy competition among headhunters, most jobs are filled in the 6-12 week window, although we’ve seen some filled within 30 days, and others filled in 6 months or more.

Does your headhunter’s performance match up to these? What other metrics do you track?


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