Using Headhunters & Career Counselors to Get a Job – Is It Worth It?

headhunter jobWhen looking for a job, you need all the help you can get. Having an inside track can help you conquer a tough job market, especially when dozens of people apply for the same position.

A headhunter or a career counselor can provide you with an advantage in a competitive job market. These professionals help you to improve the way you present yourself to potential employers, and assist you in finding positions not advertised online or in newspapers.

Determining whether to work with a headhunter or a career counselor depends upon your specific situation. If you have just started looking for a new position, networking with headhunters may help you find the perfect job. If you have searched for a job for some time, and are currently unemployed or working in a job you hate, it may be time to consider hiring a career counselor.

In this article, we’ll discuss headhunters and career counselors in-depth, including fees, setting expectations, advantages and disadvantages, and how working with one might help you find your next job.


Headhunters, also called recruiters, find quality candidates to fill job openings for companies. Headhunters typically work with an employment agency, and are contracted to work with a variety of companies. The headhunter receives a fee for matching qualified candidates with open positions. Headhunters also help applicants tweak their resumes and help them brush up on interview skills.

Benefits of Using Headhunters

Some of benefits of using a headhunter as part of your job search include:

  • Less Time Spent Applying for Mediocre Jobs. If you work with a qualified headhunter, you’ll likely spend less time applying for mediocre jobs. Without a headhunter, you may spend time posting your resume online, and applying for every job that seems like a good fit. Headhunters help you target your search and they use their contacts to find jobs that fit your unique experiences and qualifications, and that often pay higher salaries.
  • Higher Salary. Headhunters frequently represent companies that offer higher-paying jobs, or companies that have searched for months for qualified candidates. Additionally, a headhunter can also negotiate your salary on your behalf. Companies often pay headhunters based on a percentage of the first year’s salary for new employees. Because of this, it is in the best interests of the headhunters to get you the best possible salary, so they can receive higher commissions.
  • Wider Net for Your Job Search. You can cast a wider net when you work with a headhunter. Recruiters have access to unpublished job openings, and they also exchange information with other headhunters. Headhunters have a deep knowledge of the positions they try to fill. They can assess your skills and determine if you might be a good fit for a career that you may not have considered previously.
  • Discreet Job Search. If you need to keep your job search a secret, you may not want to post your resume online, or respond to confidential job postings. A headhunter provides a level of confidentiality to your job search, and uses discretion when working with clients.
  • Honest Assessments and Open Discourse. When you apply for a job with a company, you might find that the company recruiter is reluctant to reveal salary information or details about the qualifications for the position. You can have an open discussion with a headhunter about how much a job pays, and whether you could do the job.

How Much Do Headhunters Charge?

The cost of using a recruiter to help you find a job varies. In the U.K., headhunters can’t charge job seekers, but in the U.S., job seekers sometimes pay headhunters to find positions for them. Many recruiters don’t charge job seekers, since they receive payment from companies hiring new employees.

Some headhunters and employment agencies charge customers for their services. You might pay a flat fee for using an agency’s services, or you may choose from an a la carte list of employment services. Some headhunters charge applicants hourly fees for career coaching services.

Find out upfront how much the headhunter charges, and what you need to pay for his or her services, by having a frank discussion about expectations. Headhunters that contact you about open positions usually don’t charge for their services. The headhunters that charge fees advertise career coaching services in addition to job search assistance.

Tips and Strategies for Working with Headhunters

Be upfront and honest about your skills and qualifications. If you have the right qualifications and the necessary years of experience, a headhunter can help you make a connection with employers that need your talents and skills. The recruiter uses your resume and cover letter to determine whether you are a potential match for any open positions. However, the headhunter may decide not to represent you, if you do not qualify for any open positions.

The high fees to work with a paid headhunter, on average anywhere between $500 and $4,000, may be worthwhile if you land a quality job. Before paying any fees to a recruiter, make sure that you ask for and check references from job seekers and employers. You can also ask members of your professional network to recommend good agencies and recruiters.

Verify the recruiter’s success rate, and look for online reviews to make sure that you find someone qualified. After all, you want to work with someone who will get to know your qualifications and match you with a relevant position; you don’t want to work with someone who simply blasts your resume to a bunch of hiring managers on a list.

Network with the headhunters you meet. Headhunters chat with dozens of job applicants every day, so it’s important to stand out from the crowd and make a good impression. Talk openly and honestly about what you want from your job search, and ask the headhunter to connect with you on LinkedIn. When you befriend and network with headhunters, they remember you and keep you in mind when additional job positions become available.

If you have tried networking with headhunters and haven’t found a new job, consider working with a career counselor instead.

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Career Counselors

A career counselor focuses on helping you develop job skills that will help you find a career. If you need advice on presentation, resume building, and interviewing, the right career counselor can provide invaluable assistance and guidance.

Benefits of Using Career Counselors

A career counselor helps you in a number of ways, including:

  • Learn More About Yourself. That way, you can find and follow a career path that matches your skills and qualifications. A qualified career counselor identifies careers for different types of personalities and skill sets. A career counselor helps you find the career path most likely to bring you success.
  • Improve Your Resume. A career counselor can help you write a great resume, and present yourself in a more attractive way, by highlighting your best skills and attributes.
  • Brush Up on Interview Skills. An experienced career counselor can help you improve your presentation to increase the success rate of your job interviews. They also teach you how to answer commonly asked interview questions, and provide tips to help you dress and speak professionally during an interview, including good body language.
  • Practice Negotiation Techniques. Learn how to negotiate for pay, or how to ask for a raise. A career counselor can give you information and provide practice sessions, so that you feel confident selling yourself and asking for more money.
  • Identify Industry Trends. Rather than just giving you generic advice, a qualified career counselor shares information about trends in different industries. A career counselor can help steer you towards developing skills that meet the needs of an industry.

A good career counselor helps you identify problem areas and fix them accordingly. He or she can also provide you with guidance throughout your career, helping you identify your worth, and providing job hunt and salary negotiation tips. The costs involved to work with a career counselor, often hundreds or thousands of dollars, are mitigated if you find a highly qualified, experienced career counselor who can help you with your job search.

Choosing a Qualified Career Counselor

Finding a high-quality career counselor takes time, but it’s worth the effort. Some career counselors offer generic life coaching services that you can find for free online, rather than individualized guidance for your career path.

You might pay between $75 and $100 an hour to work with a career counselor. Some counselors charge $500 to $700 for an all-day session, or have special rates if you sign up for weekly or monthly counseling sessions. Make sure you get the most for your money by taking the time to research and interview career counselors. An interview might include learning more about a counselor’s background, experience, and success rates.

Some things to consider as you interview potential career counselors include:

  • Professional Associations. Career counselors who belong to well-known professional organizations may have specialized experience, training, and contacts. Check the National Career Development Association for more information on membership and credentials for career counselors. You can also check for membership in the International Coach Federation and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches.
  • Credibility. If you need help finding a job in a specific industry, find a career coach who actively works within the industry. Look at the counselor’s body of work including association memberships, client names, published articles, media interviews, and professional conference speaking engagements.
  • References and Testimonials. Review references and testimonials from past clients to learn more about a career counselor’s reputation and professional network. Review the counselor’s track record and contact past clients to learn more about his or her rate of success.
  • Methods Used. Before you decide to work with a career counselor, make sure that you understand the methods the counselor employs. Determine the length of the counseling sessions, and what they involve. Find out if you have to do homework in the form of extra practice sessions or materials to read at home. Ask if you will attend one-on-one or group counseling sessions. You will receive the most benefit from working one-on-one with a career counselor, but group sessions can prove helpful in some situations.
  • Services and Materials. Ask the counselor which services and materials they include. Be wary of paying a large upfront fee that covers “everything.” Instead, find out exactly what the fee pays for, and what session costs include.
  • Guarantee. Make sure you understand what sort of guarantee comes with the career counseling services. Some career coaches don’t offer a guarantee, while others will offer a partial refund if the counseling sessions don’t lead to results within a specific period of time. The guarantee may include conditions though, so read the fine print of any contract and ask questions to learn how different actions can void the guarantee.

A qualified career counselor can help you improve your career prospects and provide training so you can find a new job. Don’t settle for the first career counselor you speak with; take the time to interview and research qualified career counselors to make sure you find a counselor that can help you in your job search.

Final Word

In a fiercely competitive job market, where many qualified applicants apply for one position, you can benefit from using the services of a headhunter or career counselor. A headhunter can offer access to job openings that you might not have heard of otherwise, while a career counselor can help you make substantial and practical improvements in the way you present yourself.

Shop around to find a competent professional who will take the time to get to know more about you and your qualifications. It takes work, but in the end, a successful job search pays for the services of a headhunter or a career counselor.

Have you ever worked with a headhunter or a career counselor? What was the overall experience like?

  • Big Spender

    Most job seekers should avoid paid services like the plague. Reputable headhunters are paid commissions by prospective employers and will keep a Rolodex of good candidates, without any compensation from the job-seeker.

    As for career counselors, most of the services they provide are available for free if you do a little homework. Check with your college career center (most provide services for alums for free) or the local county employment office or the local community college workforce development office.

    If anyone has their hand out for an advance fee, beware.

    • David Bakke

      Big Spender

      it was definitely a learning experience for me. An expensive lesson, of course, but at least I learned something.

      I doubt I’d use one again

      Thanks for chiming in…

    • Miranda Marquit

      I really think it depends on where you go. In some cases, it might be worth it to pay for a session or two with a career counselor. However, I like your point about college career centers. If you are a recent grad, or about to graduate, that should be your first stop. Also, many cities have workforce services that are free to job seekers, and can provide free help in developing your resume to highlight your skills.

  • Jim Smith

    I’ve used lots of headhunters in my time, both to hire workers and to be hired myself. A really great head hunter has a contact list longer than his (and very occasionally her) arm, and they know where ‘everybody’ in their particular market is.

    As an employee or perspective employee, headhunters work really well when you know how to use them.
    1) They are not your friends. Anything you bitch and moan to them about your current employer could come back to haunt you.
    2) Re bitching and moaning – head hunters work on information. If you can give them some good inside information, then that gets recipricated.
    3) Make sure its an honest conversation – if you are not sure, say so. Likewise expect them to give it to you bluntly if the job isn’t right for you.
    4) They won’t put forward inappropraite candidates because it wastes everyones time and really pisses off the employer. You can also use this to your advantage – ask them what they think the right steps are, or what skills / experience you need to get the desired job.
    5) Remember – the employer pays, not you. And up to 30% of your starting salary – so it ain’t cheap.Be professional about it and they will be professional back.

    Hmmm – now I’ve written this much of a reply, I think I’ll turn it into a blog post!

    • David/moneycrashers


      All relevant points, and points well taken.

      I’d focus in on the “appropriate candidates” one also.

      If you can find one where you can forge a trustworthy relationship, I think you’re doing great.

      And of course, I think a lot of people approach these people with the hopes that they will “find them a job”.

      Unless you’re lucky, this is not going to happen without a lot of hard work on your part.

  • Robert Ward


    I read with interest you blog, becuase recently I have received several invations to contact head hunter organisations like “Connaught Executive”. Its clear from the tone that they will charge a fee. I am already working with several reputable recruiters in my area and so am cautious about this sort of apporach. My instinct is telling me that these organisations tha ask for fees are preying on teh insecurities of poeple who are feeling unsucessful in a job search.

    I gues it also depends what sort of role you are looking for.

    But I can’t help feeling its a con. Can anyone tell me otherwise?


    • David/moneycrashers


      From the personal experience that I have had, the fee-based ones just simply aren’t worth it. True to your point, I probably paid the fee out of a sense of desperation to find a job.

      I think there are just as many free services out there that can give you the same stuff.

      Thanks for commenting

    • Miranda Marquit

      I agree that you should start with headhunters that don’t charge job-seekers. If you have good qualifications, you should be able to land a job with the help of a headhunter being paid by the employer.

      • Kalen Internet Marketing Guy

        Thanks for the clarification Miranda. I had a friend who was using a headhunter and I wasn’t sure how she was getting their services for free. But it stands to reason employers would pay someone to get the right people on board. Makes way more sense than paying the wrong person to do the job. When you think of it like that, you don’t want to pay someone unnecessarily.

      • Kalen Smith

        Thanks for the clarification Miranda. I had a friend who was using a headhunter and I wasn’t sure how she was getting their services for free. But it stands to reason employers would pay someone to get the right people on board. Makes way more sense than paying the wrong person to do the job. When you think of it like that, you don’t want to pay someone unnecessarily.

  • Headhunter David

    Headhunters and career counselors are professionals who know the territory. If you know the territory well, you have no use for them. But if you do not know the territory, these are the people who can get you better jobs, with higher salaries in less time and with less hassle. And when you are dealing with a) you main source of resources for everything you want to do in life, and b) the main activity you will spend the most time on over the next few years, it pays to get the best job possible.

  • Tom Gormley

    I am in the Connecticut area. Can anyone out there recommend a good agency that is reasonable and can work with me during the time I am in transitiono. thanks

  • Uzoma Obi

    Miranda, nice informative article. Please, I need a good head hunter for the DC Metro market. I’m a CPA/Lawyer with recent experience in internal audit/consulting/compliance. Thanks.

  • Savvy Entrepreneur

    Check out whether you can do the marketing that any organisation “sells” you in an initial interview by yourself without their help. If they are offering you brilliant advice on CVs and interviewing technique and offering you “magical access to the unadvertised job market” then beware. Read the small print carefully before you sign and if it doesn’t say “we guarantee 100% that we will place you in a job” after use of our services then don’t touch it with a barge pole. Ignore “Emperor’s new clothes sales talk” that says “with your obvious talent and experience I am confident you’ll be placed in a senior level position within a few months of using our services” – and please please don’t be taken in by statistics they quote you of success rates of their clients – this kind of talk is just “advertising/blurb/window dressing” – it may not indeed be the real picture at all. Also check out if any of these organisations have been taken to court. If they have, even if they’ve won the case, what does that tell you about small print on contracts for payment of their fees?

  • Patricia

    Interesante articulo!!

    Éxitos con el blog!


  • Mike_Pf

    Headhunters don’t charge candidates or you’re not really working with a true “headhunter”. All Executive Search fees are paid for by clients, not candidates. You might be referring to “outsourcing” firms or career coaches, not headhunters.

  • Johnny Utah

    Article is retarded. I live in Seattle, WA and there is no such thing as a career counselor that you pay to find you a job. Those haven’t been around since 1998. They use to exist, but no longer.