How to Become a Headhunter: Behind the Scenes with Julian von Blücher

There’s no university or program that prepares someone to become a headhunter,” says Julian von Blücher, CEO and founder of headhunting firm Talent Tree GmbH, headquartered in Munich. It’s true – though headhunting is now considered to be the most effective method of matching candidates with companies, there’s no training or education process that can teach someone how to become a headhunter. Rather, these scouts are individuals with innate matchmaking skills, professionals who have the determination and the right sense to find the perfect fit for a client. We asked Julian von Blücher about his past, his process, and his predictions for the future of headhunting.

How to Become a Headhunter

So with no formal training, no official guidebook, how does a headhunter get started?

“You have to have some kind of branch experience,” says Blücher. “For us, it’s the start-up scene.” Blücher’s experience is in sustainability, and technology. More specifically, the marriage of the two – how start-ups and tech companies can implement greater social change. Influenced by a trip to the North Pole, as well as a cross-continental mountain bike trip through the Himalayas, Blücher worked in the sustainability industry until a perfect opportunity presented itself – the Berlin-based Ecosummit.

In 2010, Blücher signed on as the Chief Sustainability Officer. Through his work with the conference, which he describes as “the smart green business network that connects start-ups and investors in the clean tech space,” Blücher recognized his knack for connecting his contacts.

“The whole thing started with Ecosummit,” he says. “I loved to connect people. I thought, ‘They should meet and make something productive.’ I was not an HR person, it was just a notion or feeling.”

It began, says Blücher, with “two or three lucky punches,” connections that just worked out. But after one company rewarded his networking skills with a “thank you” in the form of a hefty paycheck – with no contract or expectation of compensation – Blücher recognized that his penchant for professional introductions could be seriously profitable.

“That was the sign for me – there’s money in this market, there’s a willingness to pay for the services I’m already providing… That was the initial point where I started to think about making it a real business.”

Since then, he’s honed his headhunting skills, building a team of headhunters and acquiring big-name clients like Tesla and Freeletics. Blücher stresses the fact that Talent Tree deals with all types of clients – from start-ups, to venture capital firms, to more well-established large companies. Though his company is still fresh, they’re developing a foothold in the Munich tech community, and Talent Tree will grow in the upcoming months with the addition of even more talent.

While establishing his own headhunting office, Blücher assembled a diverse team. Talent Tree has 3 other recruiters on staff, and Blücher prides himself on their complementary work styles.

“Martina,” he says, referring to his senior recruiter, “is a lot more structured. I’m the creative, conceptual guy, which makes me a better networker. She’s more dedicated to tracking, and KPI’s, and things. But we merged our best competencies together.”

He’s also very excited about his newest hires. One, though very young, has extensive experience with recruiting at universities. Another has 15 years of recruiting experience in the tech branch. And Jay Anna, who will be joining the team in the next few weeks, worked for McKinsey & Company. Blücher is looking to expand his headhunting business to include other more candidate-friendly services, and he believes that she’ll be able to provide more support to candidates who are shifting gears in their careers, or striving for management positions.

With ideas like this, Blücher is surprisingly candidate-friendly, especially compared to other headhunters. Whereas most interactions between headhunters and candidates are typically controlled by the headhunter, he offers advice to job seekers who are interested in establishing contact with an experienced recruiter.

First, he says, it’s imperative that job seekers actively talk to people. Such simple advice is often overlooked, but Blücher says, “If you’re coming from a senior network, you always have someone in your network who knows a headhunter.” By spreading the word, interested job seekers can network and create opportunities for themselves. Furthermore, if a candidate is using networks like Experteer to find a position, it’s important to maintain an active profile – doing so will increase your visibility among your network of contacts, and bring you to the attention of interested headhunters.

Blücher often refers to two methods of candidate matching: “the machine gun” approach, versus “sharpshooting.” With the former, a headhunter can utilize tools like the candidate network on Experteer, Twitter, word of mouth – any option to get the word out. By casting a large net, they can find plenty of potentially qualified professionals, who they can keep in mind for other future positions if a candidate doesn’t match the current mandate. Just as it sounds, “sharpshooting” refers to a very precise search for one specific candidate – it’s targeted, and involves plenty of research, and a lot more hard work.

“Sharpshooting,” explains Blücher, “is a lot more time intense, a lot more resource intense. It’s a lot more commitment from both sides. So the expectation of quality is raised.”

But this type of arrangement usually means that the client pays on a retainer base, compensating the headhunter for their time, rather than based on a guarantee of successful placement. Not every client will offer such an arrangement, and for those, the “machine gun” method remains.

For a modern-day headhunter, there are many ways of finding suitable candidates. Blücher believes that it’s unwise to rely on a single strategy, and so the Talent Tree staff has several approaches. At the moment, they use technology, specifically web-based “crawlers,” or automated programs that systematically search the internet for potential candidates. But he also believes that even bigger changes are coming.

“In the future,” says Blücher, “I think data driven models will come into the picture.” These programs will measure someone “not only from the technical skill set,” he says, but they’ll be able to determine “how somebody ticks.”

“It sounds a bit scary,” he says, “but I think this is where hiring innovation will lead us.”

Furthermore, he also foresees the implementation of other intelligent technologies which may help to match the right candidate to the right company. But Blücher’s specialty is technology, so it can be assumed that if there’s a new wave of tools and innovations, Talent Tree will be at the forefront.

Of course, he says that his staff is also very open to offline methods. They attend tech conferences across Germany, events like the Berlin Hackathon, or this year’s CeBit conference in Hannover. They believe in networking, the old-fashioned exchange of a business card. And Blücher is fairly open to candidate approaches.

“There’s one really strong driver” when it comes to discovering some of tech’s hidden talent, he says: referrals. “We don’t really market it that much, but if someone refers a good candidate or friend from within their network, it’s good for the candidate and for the referrer.” So, heads up, candidates – if you’re looking for a way into a headhunter’s database, find a friend to email your CV! What really impresses Blücher about a referral, he says, is that these people are not motivated by money or the idea of a reward, but that they can truly vouch for a candidate – this is what makes an impact.

Not every email or referral merits a response, as his team’s time is limited, but as most headhunters know, it’s important to assemble a comprehensive Rolodex of talented professionals. “We really understand the career goals of our candidate base,” he says, “from programmers to CFO’s, and we want to help them find their ‘dream job.’ We work hard to stay in touch as they move on in their careers… You always meet twice!”

According to Blücher, headhunting is about much, much more than identifying valuable candidates: it’s about the whole journey. This is where his skill set and knack for matchmaking is really an asset. Furthermore, his diverse staff and their eclectic backgrounds makes for a dynamic group of motivated recruiters.

“Headhunting,” he says, “isn’t just about finding the right talent… It’s about bringing them together to build a really great team. That’s where we come in.”

It looks as though Talent Tree has created their own great team, one which will only continue to grow. Experteer Magazine thanks Mr. Blücher for his time and contributions, and wishes him success in the future!

Julian Von Bluecher

Julian Blücher is the founder and CEO of Talent Tree GmbH, a recruitment agency specialized in placing talent for tech start-ups in Munich and throughout Germany. Julian’s love of networking, and his interest in people led him to a career in headhunting.

As an industrial engineer, Julian has already worked as a consultant, event coordinator, and an incubation manager for cleantech companies and start-ups. As the founder of Talent Tree, he focuses on client management, business development, and tech recruiting. Prior to that, he has examined the ice thickness at the north pole and crossed the desert of Gobi and the Himalaya on his mountain bike.

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