5 steps to become a successful headhunter

As someone who has created enough wealth to retire by 28, I would be nowhere close to where I am now without my early success as a headhunter.

Many headhunters (or recruiters as we’re called), reach out to me on a daily basis to find out how to create a similarly successful career in our crazy industry.

There’s no doubt our job is not easy, however it’s also extremely simple what you have to do to succeed as a headhunter.

First, make sure we’re on the same page on what is a headhunter as opposed to HR and internal recruiting. Once you know the difference, here are 5 steps that you can implement to start experiencing success quickly within our industry:

#1. Join the right firm with the RIGHT manager. Time and time again, I see headhunters leave our industry because they didn’t join the right company under the right leadership. They didn’t earn the money that is possible because their company simply wasn’t able to help them perform at that level!

Certain ingredients need to exist for you to start generating 6-figure income. By year 3 of my career, I was earning over $215k as a headhunter as a 25 year old. That’s because I worked at a firm that had top-billing headhunters manage and train us from day 1.

#2. Ensure that commissions are high and easy to achieve. It’s hard to stick at something when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your firm must give you enough incentive for each deal to stick with the program. The minimum I suggest is at least $2k-4k in your pocket per deal, in YEAR ONE of your career. If you’re top on the billing leagues and take home less than $100k, something is wrong.

Some firms are cheap and make their junior recruiters focus only on candidates while doling out peanuts for commission or some sort of cheap quarterly bonus. That is really short-sighted because those firms will lose staff quickly. You should be taking home at a minimum of at least 25% of your total billings in a year. Some firms we work with pay 50% of what you bill (and will let you work remotely).

#3. Prioritize work and work hard. Many people straight from college or transitioning into headhunting tend to be focused on “work-life-balance” on their first day at work. I have managed and worked alongside many people who did not make work a priority. The result is the same: that type of attitude can’t possibly lead to success.

If you want to be successful at anything, you can’t escape the initial effort needed to become a master at your craft. You have to apply yourself, especially in the early days when you should spend extra time to learn. Our business is simple: work hard (and smart) under a great manager and you will see results.

You can’t skip the “work hard” part.

#4. Improve your sales skills. Learn from the top-billers in your office. You should be reading books on sales, positive thinking, personal development, and communication skills in your free time obsessively. You should work overtime if your firm allows it. You need to practice new habits and push yourself to be more confident communicator.

#5. If all else fails, join another agency. While some headhunting companies are struggling to make ends meet, others are expanding at 50%-200% per year. In today’s world of high salaries and candidate-driven technical markets, every headhunting agency should be having great year-on-year growth. Again, if that’s not happening at your firm, you’re missing a key ingredient to succeed as a headhunter.

Sadly, I see too many new headhunters work under managers who have never billed over $500k. How can they show you the way to bill well if they themselves have never done it?

Furthermore, when you do bill, many employers pay too little commission too late. Contrary to how frustrated and powerless you may feel in that situation, know that there is hope. Once you get started in our industry, many other employers will be interested to build upon your existing start in headhunting. Everyday, we are helping headhunters get out of less-than-ideal situations into better agencies with better leadership.

The good news is that there are a LOT of awesome employers and leadership out there! You may not see it at your current firm, but it definitely exists!

In conclusion

Be strategic and selfish in your career. Just like how you coach your candidates to do what’s best for them when taking their career to the next level, you also need to see the writing on the wall and act before you NEED to. I suffered the consequences of complacency as I write about here. Don’t do what I did. Instead, take advantage of resources around you to change your status quo!

If you’re a top-billing headhunter or trying to be, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my partner, Victor Wong, or myself or a 100% confidential discussion. My headhunting for headhunters agency, DG Recruit, works with candidates at all levels in all geographies!

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