Headhunter

Headhunter

The job of finding employees for companies requires a certain set of skills. It can be stressful at times but also highly rewarding

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Jonathan Li, senior consultant of sales and marketing at the headhunting firm Ambition, is a successful professional in the business.
Jonathan Li, senior consultant of sales and marketing at the headhunting firm Ambition, is a successful professional in the business.
Photo: Jonathan Wong
Headhunters help their clients find the right employees for their company. The job is fairly straightforward but requires good people skills. Young Post met Jonathan Li, a senior consultant for sales and marketing at the firm Ambition.

Requirements

You need to be presentable and able to communicate with people from all walks of life.

Not all your clients will be talkative or have an attitude similar to yours. So you need to be a confident speaker and comfortable with fresh graduates and seasoned CEOs alike, Li says.

You also need to master both people skills and selling techniques. Recruitment is essentially a sales job in a fast-paced environment. Li says a good recruiter is curious and energetic - someone who loves meeting people and is details-oriented.

Qualifications

You need a university degree. There are no bachelor programmes specialising in recruitment. Many headhunters have a degree in business, marketing or communications. Li studied marketing in Glasgow, Scotland, before he began working in Hong Kong. If you'd like to work for an international recruitment company, it is vital that you speak good English - and preferably one more Asian language.

Work prospects

Usually, fresh graduates employed as headhunters are assigned to a department related to their studies.

So if you studied finance, you will help candidates looking for a job in the finance industry. New recruits start as researchers, helping consultants to find contacts. They map out organisations and find out who works where, but they don't meet clients. It's a great way to familiarise yourself with the industry before you dive in deeper.

After a year or two, researchers become consultants and are given their first sales target. It takes another two to three years to become a senior consultant responsible for more senior placements. Team managers make sure morale remains high and everybody performs well.

Long-term prospects

A manager can move up to associate director or director. Otherwise, they go to the client side and work in human resources at a company. Other recruiters move on to work in the industries they focused on. For example, they can become bankers if they specialised in finding placements for bankers. Some may start their own recruitment companies.

Average salary

There is no cap on what headhunters can earn. Their income comes down to how many placements they can make.

In an international recruitment company, Li says, a researcher starts at around HK$17,000 per month. Consultants have a fixed salary of about HK$20,000 and can work their way up to HK$30,000. On top of their base salary, they earn commissions for each placement they make. Li says consultants can double - and even triple - their base salary through commissions.

The prospect of earning more based on performance makes headhunting an appealing job. But you will also need to be thick-skinned, with the ability to handle the stress of meeting sales targets. "The first year is like a roller coaster," says Li. There can be a lot of back and forth and you are never sure until the very last minute that your placement will go through. You also have to learn to deal with rejection.

Where to apply

The biggest recruitment companies offer internships. Go to their websites and e-mail them your resume. Renowned international recruitment companies include Ambition, Michael Page and Robert Walters. You can also try the many local recruitment agencies. Li says some candidates even call the CEO directly. This shows they are proactive and confident - which is an essential first step in this job.

A day at work

At 8.30am, Li's at the office, writing profiles of candidates and setting up interviews. As a consultant for sales and marketing, he deals with clients like L'Oreal, Adidas and Puma. When a client has an opening, it gives him the job description. Li matches the requirements with the database of candidates.

He interviews the candidates, asking them the questions his client would ask. He checks candidates' references and sends a shortlist to the client. The company interviews the candidates for a second time.

Li finds out which ones the client liked best. Once he's found a match, he helps negotiate the terms and conditions of the contract until both parties are happy. Li spends the rest of his time looking for new clients.

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