What is Headhunting? Difference Between Headhunting and Recruitment

Kelly Barcelos on December 22, 2021 in Applicant Tracking System

What is Headhunting?

Headhunting, also called executive search, is the process of scouting and recruiting high-level employees to fill top-level positions in an organization.

Let’s understand headhunting with a Real-life Example: 

Salil Parekh is the current CEO of Infosys.

Do you know Mr Parekh landed this position at Infosys?

Infosys headhunted him to spearhead their business.

Before joining Infosys, Salil Parekh served as the deputy CEO of Capgemini. He was already a big name as he was a member of the group executive board at Capgemini. His experience became a desirable skill for the headhunters at Infosys, who hired him believing that he would be a perfect fit to lead Infosys.

This example shows that headhunting, essentially, is an exclusive process of finding exclusive candidates for top management positions in an organization. Headhunting is limited to hiring one or two top-level executives for the company. This process is very different from recruiting, where hiring is done on a mass scale.

In headhunting, the employer proactively looks for an eligible candidate regardless of whether the candidate is actively searching for a new job or not. This type of hiring is done to hire top executives such as the chairman, HR head, board of directors, and other executive members of the organization.

How Does Headhunting Work?

Every organization might manage its headhunting process differently, but in most cases, the hiring process with a headhunter goes through these seven stages:

  1. Determining the Need

    Headhunting is a discreet process because it involves hiring high-level executives. Generally, the CEO or the company leader approaches the headhunting team about needing a new employee.

  2. Identifying the Necessary Skills and Experience

    The headhunters work with the executive team and the hiring staff to identify the experience, education, training, and other skills required in the new employee. An official job description is created to help guide their headhunting efforts.

  3. Approaching Passive Candidates

    The headhunters use a variety of resources and methods, including professional connections and analyzing competitors’ employee rosters to identify leads. Then they create a list of potential passive candidates and approach them to gauge their interest in the open job position.

  4. Considering Active Candidates

    Simultaneously, the headhunting team looks at potential active job seekers to find qualified candidates.

  5. Reviewing and Vetting

    After they have gathered a selection of candidates, they take the help of the hiring team to review and vet the candidates. A few outstanding candidates are shortlisted to go through the rest of the headhunting and hiring process.

  6. Interviewing and Assessing

    The shortlisted high-level candidates go through a series of interviews with multiple stakeholders of the company. Once all the interviews are done, the team gathers to determine the best fit for the open executive position.

  7. Extending the Job Offer

    Once the hiring decision is made, the company extends the job offer, addresses negotiations as needed, and completes the headhunting and hiring process.

What Is the Recruitment?

Recruitment is a broader recruitment process of sourcing, screening, and finding the right candidates from a pool of job seekers to fill the open roles in the company. In simpler terms, recruitment is about filling up a large number of open roles with qualified candidates.

A recruiter alone or a team of recruiters along with hiring managers may be involved in filling the open positions. The recruiting team often serves as the link between the employer and the job seekers.

What’s the Difference Between Headhunting and Recruitment?

While headhunting is a highly specialised job, recruiting is more functional. Recruitment can be done by a team of in-house recruiters or by professional recruitment agencies, although headhunting necessitates the active participation of the company’s board of directors, including top management.

Take a look at the table below differentiates headhunting and recruitment based on their characteristics:





Headhunters look for candidates who are not actively searching for a job. The perfect fit for top-level job roles are hard to find.Recruiters search for active job seekers to fill up their open roles.


Once the headhunters receive an order for a specific position, they search the market (active and passive candidates) to find the best candidate.Recruiters usually have a candidate database from which they pull candidates for the open roles.


Headhunting strategy is used to fill C-suite or equivalent positions. Using headhunting for lower-level roles is rare.Recruiting strategy is used to fill the majority of the company’s open positions. Some companies may use recruitment even to fill their executive-level positions.


Headhunters are proactive in their search as they need to approach non-job seekers to fill up the positions. Moreover, they use different methods and resources, including professional connections and competitors’ employee rosters, to source qualified leads.Recruiters are reactive in their approach. Most of the time, the candidates come to them. However, they use several tools to find candidates, including posting job descriptions on online job portals to gather applications from interested potential employees.


Headhunting is a huge cost to the company as headhunters have to invest time and effort to identify and approach passive candidates.Recruiting is comparatively less expensive than headhunting since recruiters look for candidates who are actively looking for a job.


Headhunters search for candidates for very specific, high-level executive roles that are hard to fill. Such open roles are usually small in number.A recruiter usually has to fill a large number of open roles.


Since the executive level roles are hard to fill, headhunters need to spend a very long time on each position and candidate to ensure they get the right match.Recruiters need to fill a large number of roles; hence their focus is on quantity. This means that they spend less time on each candidate and very quickly move on to the next.


Both headhunters and recruiters have vital roles in searching for and hiring the right employees for their organizations. However, headhunting and recruitment have different scopes and functions. While in-house recruiters or recruitment agencies can conduct recruitment, headhunting needs the active involvement of the board of directors of the company as the job positions are of executive level which makes it important for the companies to understand the difference.

Kelly Barcelos

Kelly Barcelos is a progressive digital marketing manager specializing in HR and is responsible for leading Jobsoid’s content and social media team. When Kelly is not building campaigns, she is busy creating content and preparing PR topics. She started with Jobsoid as a social media strategist and eventually took over the entire digital marketing team with her innovative approach and technical expertise.