Known as HR staffing, contingent recruiters, and employment agencies, they are paid by the companies who engage their services to hunt talent for them. Hence the nickname, headhunter.
Everybody knows this, right? Why is it that headhunters are too often the first avenue used by professional and executive job seekers especially when unemployed? They are the least helpful resource when trying to make a big career transition. They are the most helpful when you are looking for the exact same job, industry, and position level in a different company. Most people are not.
The reason why we have this knee jerk outreach to search firms is habit long ingrained into us. Our first experience with any kind of recruiter is when they appeared on campus to recruit new graduates and interns. They hosted pizza nights, gave away bling and cool toys at career fairs. They got some of us our first jobs.
We make mistaken assumptions about them due mainly to a long, satisfactory history and pattern of relationship with them. Often, it was a headhunter who lured us out of a current position and into a new opportunity. In time, we used their help to fill our open openings. They continued to cultivate relationships with us as we grew in title and responsibilities. It is the the nature of their business.
It only makes sense to let them know that we are looking when it is time for us to move on. But, don't assume that they may actively work in our behalf to help place us by way of reciprocity. Sometimes they will try to help but we cannot expect that they will act to our benefit.
We tend to lose an objective perspective of the demands made upon them by their corporate and organizational clients. They are looking for the absolute best fit for a position in terms of industry background, professional experience and position level. Transferable skills are not a significant factor because they don't consider someone making a career transition the best possible fit for a position.
Yes, the whims of the economy affect all hiring, as a headhunter may have the perfect position when we aren't looking or desiring to make a move. Timing is everything. Do make connections with headhunters, but don't expect what they simply may not be able to deliver...a job.