Key Difference between a Headhunter and a Recruiter

HR Headhunter
As the economy has improved, many businesses have begun to experience a shortage of qualified employees and have engaged the services of staffing firms. There are typically two types of staffing personnel: Recruiters and headhunters. Understanding the differences between the two is important for any company in order to capitalize on the benefits an HR headhunter or recruiter can bring to the table. Here they are in a nutshell.


Recruiters typically will work for one or more companies and help them identify employee needs and then fill them. They are paid to develop job descriptions, screen applicants, interview candidates and walk both the recruit and the company through the process of locating, hiring, and training new employees. In regards to cost, a recruiter is usually paid by the company that has a need for an employee or employees but occasionally will work with an HR recruiting firm on a contract basis to help employees get placed with the right company. If you’re working with a recruiter, there are no fees attached to helping a potential employee get placed with a company.


Headhunters are typically paid on a contingency basis and only receive payment if they are able to find an acceptable employee for a specific company or organization. Because headhunters usually work on commission, their motivation to fill a slot with an employee is greater than with recruiters, although that motivation is not always good. A headhunter can occasionally misplace an employee because they were focused on the commission rather than meeting an employer’s work needs.

Headhunters, even those working for human resource executive recruiting firms can be paid by the company with the employee need or by potential employees to find a suitable placement within a company. There are usually fees attached to a headhunter’s contract, including a placement fee if they successfully find an employee for a company or a job as a job seeker.

Combination Employment Professionals

These are individuals who may work for a company looking to hire, a placement agency or a potential employee. They can be retained on a monthly fee or have their salary paid on contingency. They also can work for placement firms. Generally, this type of employment placement specialist focuses on filling management, supervisor or executive officer positions. In many cases, this type of an arrangement is done through a recruiting agency.

These are the three types of recruiting alignments most businesses and potential employees will face when looking for the right employment opportunity. Understanding the differences in each can help avoid sticker shock or bidden fees causing a problem. Whether you are using an HR headhunter, recruiter or firm, the goal is to place qualified employees before you so that you can fill your employment needs while they do the heavy lifting.