recruiters versus headhunters: what’s the difference?

In the recruiting industry, this is a question we get often. Certainly, there’s some overlap between what recruiters and headhunters do, but there’s plenty of differences, too. Depending on who you ask, the answer may vary, as will the role of any given recruiter or headhunter. After all, both recruiters and headhunters work with companies to handle their hiring needs. The differences tend to lie in the type of work they take on and the tools and resources they have at their disposal.

recruiter recruiting recruitment vs headhunters

There’s no absolute answer to this question, but here are our thoughts on the key points of difference between headhunters and recruiting agencies:

headhunters fill specific jobs, recruiters fill a high volume of jobs

A headhunter is typically hired by an employer to fill one particular position. Often the roles they are called in for are difficult to fill or require a candidate with a very specific set of skills and qualifications. Headhunters are frequently used to fill senior or executive roles, though this is not always the case. On the other side, recruiters tend to hire for many different roles all at once, often with overlap in the skills required. Recruiters sometimes, though not always, have a broad industry specialty, such as technology, admin or engineering. If a candidate doesn’t get one job, a recruiting agency will often have other similar roles they will recommend the candidate apply for.

recruiters usually have larger networks than headhunters

Recruiters are more likely to work for an agency (like Randstad) that has a network of branches in various cities. For instance, Randstad’s network spans across Canada and the globe. We have over 80 locations in Canada, as well as offices in the US and throughout Europe. All of these offices are interconnected and share information, resources and opportunities. For some candidates who are interested in international opportunities, this can be an advantage. Headhunters, on the other hand, tend to be self-employed consultants who take on jobs on a case by case basis.

recruiters often have enterprise resources that headhunters don’t

Because headhunters often work alone, they don’t have access to the proprietary or enterprise solutions that recruiters who work for a recruitment company do. For instance, recruiters may have access to detailed salary guides, market research, and other information that can help employers understand the hiring field better, and job seekers obtain competitive job offers relative to the market.

recruiters tend to build long-term relationships with employers

Headhunters are often engaged with their clients on a role-by-role basis. They are hired when an employer needs to hire someone for a specific role. When that role is filled, the headhunter may or may not work with that client again.

Recruitment agencies, on the other hand, tend to have more enduring relationships with their clients. Recruiting agencies are frequently contracted by companies to fulfill all the hiring needs across all their departments and divisions. Because of this, a recruiting company may be considered an extension of the company’s internal HR team. Due to recruiters’ multi-faceted relationship with their clients, they often have more insights into company culture and fit, other related roles at the company and opportunities that will be arising in the near future. This can be a benefit to job seekers who are interested in a variety of roles and exploring their options.

recruiters offer additional services to job seekers

Headhunters are interested in finding candidates who match a precise profile in hopes they will fit a particular role they’re working on. Recruiting companies hire for a diverse range of roles. It’s in recruiting agencies’ best interest to build long-term relationships with job seekers, so when a role that fits their needs materializes, they’ll have prior relationships with candidates to draw on. To best serve the diverse needs of job seekers, recruiters often offer value-added services such as resume workshops and interview coaching.

recruiters are looking for more diverse skills than headhunters

As previously mentioned, headhunters are usually focused on filling a handful of particular roles at any given moment. When reaching out to candidates, they’re usually looking for a specific skill set that matches the mandate given to them by their client.

Recruiting companies can have thousands or tens of thousands of jobs they need to fill at any given time. As a result, recruiting agencies are much more likely to be looking for candidates in a variety of different departments with different skills and levels of experience. They’ll also have a range of different job types including part-time, full-time, contract and temporary roles.


Looking for more information about working with a recruiter? Check out these additional resources.

For job seekers:

For employers:

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