Headhunting and Recruitment: What Is the Difference?

“Headhunting” and “Recruitment” are frequently used interchangeably. But is there a distinction between the two?

Yes, there is!

Understanding the difference between headhunting and recruitment is critical for streamlining your hiring processes.

Here is what you need to know:

What is Headhunting?

Headhunting, also known as executive search, is the process of hunting and recruiting high-level personnel to fill top-level roles in an organization. It is done to hire top executives such as the chairman, board of directors, human resources head, and other executive members.

Headhunters, in most cases, usually look for talent on behalf of a hiring agency, to which companies outsource recruiting for specific roles. Businesses rely on headhunters to help them fill high-seniority positions. In many cases, senior members of an organization can also take up the headhunting role for executive members like CXOs.

The headhunting process is a very proactive one, where the headhunters are always on the lookout for the right person, regardless of whether their target is actively looking for a job or not.

Pros and Cons of Headhunting

Pros Cons
Attracts top talent including passive applicants
Have specialized market knowledge
Shortens the hiring cycle
Minimize offer rejectionsLess work for recruiters  
High fee per placement
Probability of a longer cycle since the positions are almost always executive level  

What is Recruitment?

Recruitment is the process of sourcing, screening, and selecting the best people from a pool of applicants to fill open positions in an organization. In simple words, recruitment is the process of filling a large number of open positions with qualified people.

In general, recruitment refers to a broader process of screening an employee for a vacant position, typically in lower ranks than the executive tier. People in recruiting serve as contacts for job seekers. They manage the complete job hiring process, right from job posting to contacting the applicants, recruiting, and onboarding.

Also Read: How to Improve your Existing Recruitment Process?

Pros and Cons of Recruitment

Pros Cons
Builds employer branding
Better employee engagement and communication
Transparency and better negotiation
Cost saving  
Difficulty to reach passive candidates
Companies cannot get quality candidates every time
Candidates may reject offers
Recruiters might have to work overtime to manage other tasks.

What is the Difference Between Headhunting and Recruitment?

The main distinction between headhunting vs. recruitment is how they are carried out. While recruiters select candidates from a pool of active or interested job seekers, headhunters seek professionals with the skills and experience needed for a certain job.

Headhunters have an edge over recruiters since they draw prospects from the talent market, such as passive job searchers. Approximately 70% of job applicants are passive candidates who do not actively seek new opportunities.

Recruiters, on the other hand, may use a variety of methods to find candidates. They rely on tried and tested methods like submitting a job on a company’s portal or using job-search forums.

Now that both the terms have been understood, let us check the major difference between recruitment and headhunting.

Type of Position

C-level or executive positions are difficult to fill, and applicants of this caliber are difficult to discover and require a strategic offer and persuasion. This elevates it to the level of recruitment that headhunters specialize in.

Meanwhile, recruiters often hire people from entry-level to middle-management roles to fill organizational vacancies.

Hiring Process

The major distinction in the roles involved in headhunting and recruitment means they invite candidates differently. In most cases, interested applicants respond to a job opening, submit their resumes, and the recruiting team evaluates their profile. 

With headhunting, headhunters have already pre-screened the candidates before they send invitations to them. Often, they reach out to a passive candidate working for a direct competitor. 

People Involved in the Hiring

In headhunting, the CEO or any corporate executives might approach and recommend industry experts within their circle whom they believe are qualified for the post they want. They might also hire headhunters to assist them in building an executive talent pool. They can help the selection process by conducting exclusive research on reliable and skilled individuals.

The most important role of headhunters is to verify each person’s background to filter out misleading and exaggerated profiles among prospects. When it comes to hiring, the company’s internal human resource team usually takes care of the end-to-end recruitment process.  They assess the need for new roles, arrange where job postings will be promoted, contact applicants, organize interviews, and assist successful candidates with the onboarding process.

Cost of Hiring

It is obvious that headhunting is more expensive than recruiting. It requires rigorous candidate screening. Headhunters work as independent freelancers or for a headhunting firm. Businesses engage in headhunting to ensure that only the best people lead their organizations.

On the other hand, the recruitment team, as part of the human resource department, are on the company’s payroll. Unlike headhunting’s specialized selection process, recruitment is often routine work and is already part of the company’s operational funds.


While both recruiters and headhunters are vital in filling vacant jobs, they do not perform the same job.

Recruitment works for a larger number of positions with traditional recruitment methods. Headhunters take a more focused approach to onboarding key members using exclusive hiring methods.


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