By Janet Perez
January/February 2001 - Regardless of the kind of workday you're having, a call from a headhunter can provide an ego boost. More importantly, it can open all sorts of career doors.
"In a fluid market like this, you have to be your own continual tester," says Fred Nagel, president of Acorn Career Counseling and Resume Writing in Rhinebeck, New York.
"Can I get a job someplace else? What skills are in demand? Essentially what am I worth? Headhunters can help with these questions because they will show you openings and salaries, and you'll get a better sense of what you're worth and how easy a transition it would be to get another job. I think they fulfill a very important part of your career management."
Still, Mr. Nagel warns that there are pitfalls in dealing with headhunters. First, you might need to ensure that your employer doesn't know you're testing the waters elsewhere. Some companies don't take kindly to the idea of employees entertaining other job possibilities.
Pitfall number two involves headhunters' divided loyalties.
"Headhunters make their money essentially by convincing you that another job is better," Mr. Nagel says. "They don't really represent you, they represent their own interests. It's similar to buying a house and working with a real estate agent. I know that real estate agent puts the highest priority on the deal being made, because it's the only way to get paid. I have to be aware that the real estate agent really doesn't represent me."
Although headhunters are paid by companies looking to hire workers, they can serve an important intermediary function for individuals, helping them negotiate such things as benefits and salary with prospective employers.
"They'll advise you, for example, how high to go in negotiation of your salary," Mr. Nagel says. "They'll advise you how to play it. Of course, all their advice has to do with how they are going to close the deal. But they can provide useful information on how to negotiate and what they think the company will eventually pay. They will bring an offer to you and then take your offer back to the employer."
Dealing with headhunters in such instances is a matter of building trust. Mr. Nagel says a good headhunter will be personable and friendly in an effort to gain your trust, but you should be careful not to read too much into such friendliness. "You have to be aware that this is the way the game is played, and they play the game for their own profit," he says.
That doesn't mean you have to surrender control of the process or place a headhunter in an adversarial role.
Nick Corcodilos is the director of North Bridge Group, a headhunting and management consulting firm and host of the online feature "Ask the Headhunter." On his Web site, he advises those who are in the middle of negotiating a job to disclose their salary to the headhunter. You'll soon find out if that information is making its way to the potential employer, thus hurting your chances of upping your salary demands.
"Experiment with one or two positions he [the headhunter] refers you to; see how he does on the negotiations," he writes. "It will quickly become clear whether he's telling the employer more than he should. A good headhunter will take your salary information and use it to determine whether there's even a chance at negotiating a mutually acceptable deal. When you work with a good headhunter, you're not bargaining with him. He's bargaining with both the employer and you. While he's trying to get the employer a good deal, he's not going to alienate you by 'pitching you lowballs.'"
To better assess a job offer or even a feeler you might get from a company, Mr. Nagel suggests, you should do some research of your own. You can get information about the given company on the Internet, through a Lexus/Nexus search, or by asking around discreetly about that company.
Another key point to remember is that a headhunter – inadvertently, of course – could help you get a better position at the company that currently employs you.
"If you have an offer in writing that's quite a bit better than your current job, sometimes you can use it as a bargaining chip. You can go to your boss and say, 'I've been offered something a lot better. I like working here, and if there is any way I can stay I would,'" Mr. Nagel says. "If your boss really thinks you're critical, it's a nice way of getting a raise and staying."
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