How to Respond to a Headhunter Call at Your Workplace

As a part of our ongoing series when we ask Headhunters the questions that are most pertinent from a candidate’s perspective, we have insights today from Erni Curk, the Managing Director from the Profil Group in Ljubljana that focuses on executive recruitment.

How to respond to a headhunter call at your workplace

From having an internal locus of control alongside a big picture view, to how to respond to a headhunter call at your workplace, read more to find out all that’s expected of candidates in senior positions…

1. Which questions should a candidate always be ready for?

Erni: The nature of the position/client in question, it’s context and client’s potential special requirements strongly dictate the interview content. However, there are some universal questions which are applicable to almost any candidate, examples of which are shown below:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Which are your key strengths /weaknesses?
  • Why would you be the best candidate for the job?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What has been your biggest mistake / misjudgment in your career?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?

 At first glance, such questions may seem simple, but a skilled headhunter manages to gain valuable insight into the logic behind the candidates’ answers, their perception of themselves, social and other situations, their mindset, motivational drives, etc.

Those questions are imperative if the headhunter wants to see the candidate not only through the eyes of matching his/her experiences to the client / position in question, but rather try to understand the candidate as a person and in the end competently and plausibly present the candidate to the client.

2. What is the one thing you particularly look for in a resume?

Erni: Above all a resume has to be well structured. If all important information are clearly presented and easy to find, it will save time to the reader (potential future employer) and make the candidate immediately appear an effective & goal oriented person. The parts that can obviously not be skipped are contact details, education and of course career history (previous jobs and employers, with a description of tasks and responsibilities).

Other details such as additional education, knowledge, skills and interests give broader picture about a candidate. Some creativity with the design is also welcomed and will make your resume noticeable, but the most important thing is still presenting yourself in a concise, clear and transparent way with strong relation to job position applied.

If you have excellent resume and apply to “wrong” position without additional explanation, your candidacy can fall in the eyes of recruiter.

3. From the candidates‘-perspective: what can they expect from a top recruiter

Erni: Candidates can recognize experienced recruiter by his professionalism from the initial approach on, either via phone or in person. Basic professional standard demands absolute discretion between recruiter and candidate, similar to doctor-patient relation, until permission to continue to the next level is given by the candidate.

In addition, top recruiter will never give impression of forcing candidate towards one client, but will examine all aspects of candidate’s career path, competencies and motivational inclination towards general and particular job possibilities.

Experienced recruiter could always also be defined as valuable career guide to candidates if he/she has innate ability and willingness to provide feedback to candidate. That feedback must be based on in-depth understanding of candidate’s competencies (professional and personal) and thorough knowledge of local market, the combination of which enables the recruiter to derive and present candidate’s realistic career options within his/her desired field.

4. What are the key characteristics for a senior-position today?

Even though the economy is constantly changing and with that the corporations and companies, we believe that key characteristics for senior position have changed very little through the times. In our opinion those are:

  • The ability to see the “Big Picture” – whether achieved through a wide range of experience or due to curiosity and desire to really understand business in early career days – this ability is essential and indispensable for senior level position today.
  • Internal locus of Control – which implies a willingness to take responsibility as well as confidence and determination that he /she can influence events.
  • Team leadership skills based on strong understanding of every human/employee impact on work efficiency.
  • Personal integrity with universally acceptable ethical and moral standards – including willingness to listen to others, encouragement of creative ideas, support of the development initiatives and absence of fear of changes.
  • Expertise and strong commitment to professional growth and development.

5. What’s been the highest salary for which you have placed a candidate?

Erni: Salary questions are very simple, but yet most difficult for candidates due to different personal interpretations of question itself. But to be fair, every experienced headhunter desires great recruitment challenge with top standard expectations from the client’s side. In this case importance of recruitment and headhunter himself is acknowledged and also job position itself includes higher salary package, which can be a good motivation for candidates. In the last couple of years, the highest fixed salary achieved by placed candidate was between 15-20 K EUR gross per month (without benefits).

6. For me a candidate is an immediate reject in an interview if…


  • the candidate asks for salary/package information before he/she understands level and scope of job position.
  • it is clear that the candidate does not have accurate understanding of what the job is all about, does not seem like he/she is trying to understand, but is still very motivated for position and interview with our client.
  • the candidate is unable to listen without interrupting, talks far more than necessary and in the end still has trouble answering questions clearly.
  • all previous candidate’s working arrangements are finished due to assumed ex-employers mistakes/unfairness/misunderstandings.

7. At 40, am I still interesting for a headhunter?

Erni: Definitely interesting. Different clients have different needs, a candidate at 40 may not be interesting for a client who wishes to establish a young and dynamic team, while he/she might be a perfect match for large corporations for corporate managerial positions where sufficient experience within the branch is needed – and that means around 40 of age and even above.

Throughout previous years the trend of interesting candidates has somewhat fallen towards candidates in their 30’s but many clients have experienced that relative youth and consequentially energy, drive to prove oneself and enthusiasm to grow professionally do not compensate enough for wider experience, maturity and prudence.

While we cannot deny that age is an important factor, it is not the only one and is in some cases strongly overshadowed by personal charisma, emotional stability / intelligence and efficiency.

Basically it all comes down to client’s age preferences (if they have some), required and actual competency overlap and not at least the chemistry between the client and the candidate that either clicks or does not click – regardless of the age of the candidate.

8. What makes a headhunter ‚successful‘?

Erni: A successful headhunter in the most rudimentary sense is the one with satisfied clients. And satisfied clients lead to good references. Profil annually conducts a client satisfaction survey and the question: »Why have you chosen to work with us?« always provides the same two by far most frequent answers: »Because we’ve had good experience with you.« and »Because of your good references on the market.« The factors that greatly benefit good experience with headhunter are probably the following (not necessarily in that order):

  • in-depth knowledge of local market (different branches, companies, etc)
  • drive to provide professional service, willingness to »go the extra mile«
  • good knowledge and experience in management, leadership and corporate governance
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, empathy, persuasiveness, discretion
  • never affording to lose credibility in any way – either with clients or candidates
  • good social capital
  • entrepreneurial sense

9. How do you obtain a ‚search mandate‘ for a senior position from a company?  

Erni: Obtaining search mandates for senior positions depends and differentiates on the segmentation of the client:

  • Most often, the request comes from a satisfied client, because of our reliability and high successful rate of past recruiting in the region. Successful job fillings and high performance of recruited candidates arouse no doubt whether to engage us for another search with clear confidence.
  • Second most probable cause would be through references; recruiting manager of another company (most probably our past / present client) convinces the potential client to invite us for an introductory meeting where we present our recruitment methods and references.
  • Sometimes it takes standard sales process to get first chance to perform for a client who has not tried our level of search services – usually the appropriate approach and presentation are important in first meeting, at the end result and successful recruitment convinces the new client to gain a long term trustworthiness for new search mandates.
  • Since the majority of our searches are senior positions it also frequently happens that a successful candidate becomes a recruiting and decision making manager who engages us for new recruiting within his new company.

10. Candidates often have a question in mind: How to respond to a headhunter call at your workplace ? As a headhunter, what’s your response?

Erni: First advice is to listen to recruiters’ introductory sentences and if it is not appropriate situation or timing for discussion, the candidate should ask to postpone the phone call until more appropriate time later that day. Professional headhunters are highly aware that calling a potential candidate to his workplace often pushes a person into uncomfortable situation since colleagues, subordinates or even a boss could be close to a candidate while receiving a phone call.

Secondly, the candidate should be open to discuss open position and try to explain sincerely his present job position and possible motivating points to change it.

An interview without obligation is certainly something that would inform the candidate with potential job position requirements and possible offer. Headhunters are always trying to retain high level of confidentiality no matter if the candidate decides for further process and interview with a client or not. Appropriate professional communication and sincere personal openness will make every candidate a possible candidate for future career opportunities, also in the case that the present one is not accepted.

We would like to thank Erni for sparing his time and sharing these most valuable insights with us and the candidates applying for management jobs. While we believe that our candidates have all the industry and functional experience which makes them stand out, but we think it is equally important to know which of those aspects are most critical from a headhunter’s perspective. To that end, we hope that candidates are able to use this valuable information and increase their chances of landing their dream jobs.

About Profil group and Erni Curk:

Profil Group Executive headhuntersPROFIL GROUP, Ljubljana , Executive recruitment and Management consulting group of companies with 25 years of tradition in markets of South-Eastern and Central Europe. Erni Curk, Managing Director of Profil Slovenia & Croatia, has more than 10 years of working experiences in Executive & Middle Management recruitment and HR Consulting.

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