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What Headhunters Look For

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“Tough, competitive, fast-paced, on-demand” are some of the words used by headhunters to describe the job market, and rightly so. The job market has never been an easy one and it is not about to get easier, not even in this time of record-low unemployment rate. On the flip side, the rise in employment means that more firms are hiring, and this increases your chance of being hired.

However, firms that employ the services of headhunters do not run ads for the positions these headhunters are hired to fill. These positions are usually senior-level executive positions. Thus, executive searches are carried out quietly and the recruiter only reaches out when a candidate fits the role. The entire process of headhunting has been made easier with online tools and companies like Gated Talent, a retained search firm that positions executives to be seen by top headhunters. But even with these modern tools, some qualities still set apart good candidates from great ones, and potential candidates still need to put in the work to stand out. An understanding of what headhunters look for is required and this article provides some insight into this.


Headhunters have been known to pass up more knowledgeable candidates for candidates that display more passion and enthusiasm for what they do. This is because knowledge can always be learned but passion cannot be transferred. Insights from Deloitte show that passionate workers are more likely to perform better and usually have a more positive attitude towards learning and making improvements. Headhunters ultimately look for candidates that show a genuine love for what they do because this often translates to a willingness to work harder to boost company performance.

Specific skill/Career direction

This is a two-for-one. Headhunters usually operate within one industry or a subsector of an industry. For example, a headhunter may specialize in searching for candidates in the tech industry or more specifically, in the data analytics subsector. In this case, only candidates with skills specific to data analysis will be considered. And even at that, only candidates whose career paths are in that direction for the foreseeable future will be considered.

As a candidate, it is in your best interest to ensure that your portfolio reflects your current skill set in your industry of choice. Your portfolio should also indicate plans for growth in that industry.

For example, if you specialize in data analysis, your portfolio should highlight skills relevant to that, and as a bonus, indicate that you are taking advanced or enterprise-level classes in data analysis, like the Tableau training in NY, offered by Accelebrate. This shows that you are committed to your discipline both now and that you have plans to improve and remain in that line of work.


The roles that headhunters are usually tasked with finding are high-pressure ones. These are roles that require a great deal of brainpower and technical skills. Because of this headhunters always look out for your ability to take initiative. This involves everything from being a self-starter to being innovative and creative. Headhunters will always look out for side projects, volunteer work, etc. that you have undertaken. Being a self-starter also means being self-motivated and reliable, and headhunters will look out for that too.

Track Record

As important as passion, skill, and enthusiasm are, your track record can make or mar your portfolio in the eyes of a headhunter. Your previous experience, as well as companies where you’ve worked, are among the first things a headhunter checks on your portfolio. It shows your capabilities and how you performed in similar roles.

Headhunters sometimes back-channel candidates to find out how they performed in a similar position, and what their former boss or colleagues think about them.