When a Headhunter calls...

You have probably experienced this a lot in your career and if you are in a senior position (also read as 'someone with critical skills'), chances are you get these calls pretty often.

They go something like this.

Photo courtesy: Matthew Henry from Burst

“HI, am I speaking to (your name here)? Is this a good time to speak to you".

What would you say?

“Who gave you my number??”

Actually, what you say next and more importantly, how you say what you say, will determine how your relationship with, possibly someone who could be introducing you to our dream job opportunity, will go.

This is what most Headhunters hear…

1.    Who is this?? Who gave you my number??? or

2.    I am busy and I am not interested

This, by the way, is even before one has ascertained who is calling and what is the reason for the call.

Let's do a replay...

Headhunter :"Hi, am I speaking to (your name here)? Is this a good time to speak to you"

You: "Who is this? What is this regarding?"

Headhunter : " My name is XXX and am calling from XYZ Consultants.

We are an Executive Search Firm and have been retained by our client for fulfilling a search for________. If this is a good time, I would like to speak to you about the same, if not, do let me know a good time to call you"

Now, either of the following responses could follow. Feel free to tick the one that you would respond/react with:

1.    Who gave you my number??

2.    Sorry, not interested

3.    What makes you think I am looking for a job?

4.    Thanks for calling. I am a bit busy right now, but would like to know more about this. Could you call me at..?

Which of the above would you choose?

Almost 70% people who get such calls, react with either the top 3 statements...and probably closing the door to a possibly career changing opportunity waiting just behind that door.

Tips on Responding To A Headhunter Call

Be Polite...You don’t know which opportunity is knockingAsk the caller to identify himself/herselfAsk for the purpose of the callListen calmly, it will take you lesser than the time you think it will

In case you cannot carry on the conversation, say you are busy and ask the person to call back at a convenient time.In case you are not interested, thank the person for calling and say while you would want to pass this opportunity, you would want to know about similar opportunities in the future. This keeps you abreast of what’s happening in the job market in relation with your skills.

IMPORTANT: If your impression of the Recruiter itself is not good, tell them politely that you are not interested. It's not worth it to be represented by an unprofessional sounding Recruiter

Filter It Down to The Professionals!

There will be plenty of Recruiters calling, but that doesn't mean you have to engage with everyone. You will know within the first few seconds itself, if the call is worth continuing.

Here's how to recognise a professional headhunter:        

  • They know your worth and they respect the value of your time.

  • They will always ask if it's a good time to talk

  • They will always introduce themselves clearly.

  • They want to ensure you will remember their name and their Firm's name

  • They will not jump straight into selling the job to you, that's an ongoing process.

  • They also need to evaluate whether you are a good fit for the position, and they will only reveal more details once they are sure that you are a probable fitThey are highly patient and are seasoned callers.

  • They will not take 'No' personally. To a Headhunter, that only means that the prospect needs more information before deciding. Given that they know you are not in the job market actively seeking a change, they understand and therefore are highly patient and persistent

  • They will not ask for your resume or details of your compensation, without first ascertaining your fitment & interest in the role (in that order)

Having said all this, you will still have to deal with the multitude of recruiters out there and a majority of them are likely to be inexperienced. That is because the entry barriers to this profession are low. The irony is that quality talent is in short supply everywhere and it takes years for one to gain experience, that shape them to evolve from being a 'recruiter' to a professional 'Headhunter'.

It is with these professional Headhunters, that you should be in touch with as you continue to progress in your career.

Here's Why Having Some Professional Headhunters In Your Circle Is Important

Over your career timeline, you should develop some good relationships with a few key Headhunters. Here's why:

1.    Opportunity comes knocking...are you listening? Headhunters are the first to know of the big opportunities out there. They have already studied your profile, seen your social feed, perhaps even taken some second opinions on your candidature and yes, all this even before calling you. So, it reasons that, if you are getting a call, there must be something worth listening to.

2.    Understand the job market: You will notice that there are those times in the year where suddenly there are a lot of calls coming your way and there are those times, when there are none. Assuming that you haven't been turning away all the headhunters and have made it to their 'Do Not Call' list, then the market for your job is a bit slow. The best way to safeguard yourself from the adverse effects of the occasional downturn, is to have some close Headhunter friends, who are always willing to have a quick chat with you and let you know what's really happening out there

3.    Build your safety net: The title of Harvey Mackay's book "Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty" is an apt one for this scenario and the book also extols the virtues of networking. You don't want to be searching for 'those headhunters' who called months/years earlier and wish you could have been in touch with them, when the water is flowing over the bridge.

And One last Thing...

Remember, opportunity will present itself in the form of a call or an InMail or even a Whatsapp message. Respond professionally, courteously and patiently…you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Take a deep breath and respond...don't react.

Someone once said..."Luck is nothing but the meeting point of your alertness and an opportunity that's passing by"

Remember, behind all those CXO movements, all those key hires, there are professionals at work to identify the right fit and make the match...someone may have identified you.

(This article is a re-post of Amar Salvi's article by the same title, first published on

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