The style of your initial contact counts

The Email That Every Headhunter Will Ignore

It’s not uncommon these days to proactively get in touch with a Headhunter. Headhunters are on the hunt for top talent for their next open senior management positions, and no one will object if you “help out” in the process. In our interviews with headhunters and top recruiters we determine how one should behave in interviews to be successful, and pass that information on to you. But even before that, in the contact phase itself, are you aware of the email that every headhunter will ignore? Today we share insights from Thomas Holtmann, Managing Director of the Munich location of TOPOS Recruitment agency. Read further to obtain his insights on the recruitment market…

Don’t get rejected automatically with the “to whomever it may concern” email approach!

1. Which questions should a candidate ask a headhunter?

Thomas: A candidate should be curious in any case, to figure out who has contacted him/her and with whom they can develop a picture about future career moves. In this sense, questions about the company, the industry or the functional priorities of the headhunter and the recruitment agency are key.

However, at least in a first telephone call, one should not exaggerate their demands. In the market plenty of “CV-collectors” or so-called consultants exist – those who work without any specific assignment. I am personally happy when the candidates are able to differentiate who they are talking with.

In addition to information about the recruitment consultant, a candidate should also request information on tasks and responsibilities of the post offered. This will signal the beginning of a relationship to the headhunter, and they should ask for further topics and areas the candidate is interested in. In a personal interview with the headhunter, all questions about the company seeking the candidate and the post to be filled should be discussed. Also, the job specifics or process guidelines should be reviewed.

2. What is the worst way for a candidate to behave in the first contact with a headhunter

Thomas: An exaggerated self-assured appearance with the message that, “actually, I’m the best for the job and, I will speak directly with the decision makers at the customer end!” is certainly considered inappropriate. This, combined with an extremely casual outfit, will turn this particular interaction sour. Thus, the hunt for the perfect top manager will continue, shortly after this candidate’s departure.

3. How can candidates remain in touch with headhunters?

Thomas: With many candidates I maintain a regular exchange. Usually our topical exchanges are about the candidate’s desire for a change of position, passing on references of people in their personal network who want a change, the desire to meet to discuss relevant industry events or even to alert me when positions are vacant in their company. There are various reasons to get in touch and stay in touch.

4. What kind of candidates do headhunters maintain long term relationships with? 

Thomas: A recruitment consultant is always interested in the latest developments in the industry, in that sense, one is trying to stay in contact with well-connected and networked people. Of course, one also maintains contact with the candidates where one sees the potential for successful placements in the future. It should also be clear that a recruitment consultant works with a very large number of excellent candidates and can’t be expected to keep in close contact with all of them.

5. How can a candidate proactively get in touch with a headhunter? 

Thomas: On a daily basis, I get unsolicited applications across all channels. Of course if a candidate wants to be noticed, for me he/she creates interest when in two or three short sentences they clearly indicate where their focus is and it happens to be an area that I am covering. Then I read further.

I am unwilling to be a victim of the serial email sent out to “whomever it may concern”, I don’t respond to those emails at all. We have also stopped responding particularly to outlandish applications and applications received by post. This is simply not up-to-date and signals that the candidate is perhaps trying to be different by any means necessary. Contacts on the social media networks are the same; I respond quickly, if the candidate is succinct and relevant to my needs.

Otherwise, it helps of course, to seek contact with a recruiter through a personal recommendation.

6. How can a candidate identify the best headhunters- should they go by industry expertise or the size of the headhunting business?

Thomas: It’s certain that good headhunters bring proven expertise to the industry, through usage of their extensive network and expertise. I am convinced that this quality is established after successful deliberations for many years in a particular industry with repeat clients.

The size of a business is in my view not an essential quality feature. However, if multiple positions or clients active in an industry are being considered by a larger recruitment agency, then the probability that they have a suitable position for each candidate will be higher. There is also the opportunity for discussions that cover different sectors outside of their current industries, if an exciting and relevant opportunity is available.

For a very large recruitment agency, where the work is strongly database driven, sometimes personal contact with candidates is lacking as is the detailed knowledge of the client. Using general databases or job boards, headhunters find positions for the third, fourth and fifth levels of the applicants, often forming a mass market place. This is not really fair for specialized professionals and executives.

Ultimately, a candidate will quickly recognize whether a headhunter is listening to his/her individual needs and career expectations, or will simply push him/her in the direction of a particular open mandate that needs to be filled. This can happen in small and large firms, so make sure to decide what’s best for you.

We would like to thank Thomas Holtmann for this interesting interview and his insights. We hope as a reader you can benefit from them and use this information to prepare yourself for your next top position.


About Thomas Holtmann und TOPOS Recruitment München GmbH

As a recruitment consultant, Thomas Holtmann has supported the dynamic SME/B sector since 2006. His main focus is on the major players in the TIMES sector, and consulting firms in the search for executives in the classic corporate functions of Finance, Marketing, Sales, Purchasing and IT. Based on his own professional experience, he also focuses on supporting innovative enterprises and media companies in finding employees, especially in the digital editorial, sales and marketing functions.

Since 2012, Mr. Holtmann has been the Managing Director of the Munich location of the TOPOS recruitment consultants.



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