When you first introduce yourself to a new acquaintance they will often ask, "So, what do you do for a living?" My first reaction is to say that I am a recruiter. However, I am not sure that is an accurate title. First, it sounds quite boring and nondescript. Second, I am not sure it really describes what I do. The meaning of the word recruiter is, "one who seeks to hire or enroll." There are a lot of recruiters out there and they are typically employed by the entity in which they are recruiting, like an armed forces recruiter. That is not what I do.
Frankly, I still like the term "headhunter". Although, it has negative connotations and may even be offensive to aboriginal tribes who literally "hunt heads", it better describes what I do for a living. For the aformentioned reasons, I have chosen the title "Search Specialist". In reality a search specialist is a purveyor of job market information. A good search specialist has his or her finger on the pulse of the market in which they specialize. In my case, that vocation is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I spend my entire day communicating with employees, hiring authorities and human resource personnel regarding the state of their respective employment situation. This allows me to have special insight into their worlds. What job skills are in demand (and which are dying), how much people are earning (and how much employers are willing to pay) and the processes that are used to make hiring decisions (and why offers are turned down or accepted). This is where the similarity between recruiter and search specialist stop.
What differentiates a search specialist from a recruiter is the process in which talent and opportunities are discovered. I could go on and on about the use of job boards, LinkedIn and user groups but those subjects have been discussed ad nauseam. The difference is two-fold and also interrelated. First, a recruiter is beholden to some entity. Whether it be the company they are employed by or the marching orders given by their upper management or worse yet, the commission they can earn. Bottom line, a recruiter has a vested interest in seeing you take a job with a certain company. They will not tell you this and it will only become evident after the deal is done. I often hear horror stories about the difference between what the recruiter told the candidate and what the job really turned out to be. It becomes evident after the fact that the recruiter was just trying to fill their client's opening so that they could make a commission. This is not a slam on people who have the title "recruiter" as many of them have good intentions and do their jobs with integrity.
As a search specialist, my goal is to meet the needs of three parties: the client that has a critical staffing need, the candidate who is looking to build a career and the reputation of myself and my firm. If I do everything within my power to take care of parties one and two, number three will be addressed as a by-product of a job well done. The hiring authority's need is addressed by simply being thorough. By asking lots of questions and digging beneath the surface. A good search specialist will become an extension of the employer and will in turn be able to describe the opportunity to a prospect with conviction. Finding a certain "hard" skill set is simple and in fact it is secondary to finding the right set of "soft" skills.
Most hiring authorities agree that hard skills can be learned but a bad attitude can be like a cancer to well oiled team. Hence, a search specialist should be asking deeper personal questions and not checking off some kind of shopping list of skills. The candidate on the other hand has a career to think of as well as a myriad of other concerns; salary requirements, benefits, location, and how it will effect their family. That comes back to asking those deeper, personal questions. Building a meaningful relationship with the candidate allows for an open discussion about why a certain position is, or is not, a good fit for them and their family. That relationship allows you to address all of the concerns a candidate might have as opposed to trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Any candidate that has worked with a recruiter knows what I am talking about.
In a nutshell, a search specialist should be forming meaningful and personal relationships with the people they work with. Don't get me wrong, a good search specialist had better have a certain amount of greed or they will go hungry. I don't do this as an altruistic endeavor. However, I do take a lot of enjoyment in filling that critical staffing need while at the same time putting the candidate in a better place than they were before we met. My fee is simply a fringe benefit of doing my job well. Repeat business and referrals, though, are the testament of how I go about my business.