What to do when you've been headhunted

Put in a few years or start to make a name for yourself as a good operator in your industry and chances are you'll be tapped on the shoulder by a recruiter hoping to entice you to pastures new.

Being headhunted can be flattering and may trigger your next career move, if the time and opportunity are right. So how should you play things to ensure the situation unfolds to your best advantage when the calls come?

Contain your excitement until you know they're on the level, says 2ndLease founder Alex Brown. He received his share of approaches, and was eventually recruited for a new position, while working in the property and resources sectors earlier in his career.

Genuine offers

"You need to filter out the genuine ones from the ones that are trying to get you on their books," Brown says.

Asking plenty of questions about the role a recruiter is touting can help you ascertain whether it's real, or they're just on a fishing expedition, looking for details to add to their database.

"I found I was able to tell if they were looking at a job spec, as opposed to just trying to talk to you about potential positions," Brown says.

"Don't let them waste your time… Make sure it's genuine and the jobs are actually real before you commit too much time to them."

Individuals who are serious about their careers should be ready and willing to take the recruiter's call, especially as they move up the ranks, Trevor-Roberts careers specialist and former head hunter Deborah Wilson says.

Profile pick

Key to preparedness is being aware of your own public profile. 


"What happens when you google yourself, what are you doing on LinkedIn, what articles, what thought leadership pieces are you putting out?" Wilson says.

"What are the public and the media saying about you if you're in a listed company? That's the piece that's really important and that's how people find you, the head hunters find you.

"They do talent mapping and they track and monitor people on a global basis …Career strategy around networks and being out and about, in terms of public eye and across media, is really important."

LinkedIn link up

The vetting process begins the minute you engage with a head hunter and if a call does come out of the blue, postponing the conversation until you've had a chance to collect your thoughts can be wise.

Ask for an email to be sent from their workplace, arrange a time to talk that suits you and request they position the company and the role before answering questions about yourself and how you're placed, careers coach Sally-Anne Blanshard advises.

Take the time to review their business and LinkedIn profiles before deciding whether to take a head hunter into your confidence, she says: "With the latter, do many people recommend this person for their skills?"

If their credentials check out, giving them a hearing can be worthwhile, even if you're happily situated, well paid and in no mood for a move.

Be a nice human

"I think that in this day and age we should accommodate calls like this and 'be a nice human'," Blanshard says. 

"There are many stories I can recall where people burn their bridges with contacts by being unnecessarily rude. This role may not suit you now but keep the relationship open – it's the power of your ongoing network."

In today's jobs market, where uncertainty has become the new norm, it's wise to take advantage of every opportunity to position yourself, Wilson agrees.

"No job is for life – the wheels can fall off at a moment's notice," she says. 

"New CEOs come into organisations and they change leadership teams…so I think it's about being open and about embracing the way the world is changing. Opportunities come and go pretty damn quickly – we're seeing that more and more in the last 12 months with executives.

"Give them a hearing, learn from it, listen to the questions they're asking you, what's the information you're sharing…I think you have to be on your guard and on your game from the moment you engage in that call because this basically is positioning you for your next role. 

"Know your strengths, know your elevator pitch, what is it that you're good at, where do you see yourself in five years' time…know your achievements in the last 12 months, know what you've done over your career."

Positive power

Being discreet and positive leaves the best impression – which means not dishing the dirt on your current employer, however under-challenged or poorly appreciated you may perceive yourself to be.

"To talk about the current company that you're in, in a derogatory manner, you'd think that executives wouldn't [do] that, but they do," Wilson says.

"It's got to be positive, it's got to be focusing on the key messages you want the recruiter to take away which is around your skill, it's around your professionalism, it's around your future."