Like many company owners, Susan Pierce often has trouble finding quality employees. “I was spending so many hours and dollars advertising, reviewing résumés, making phone calls, interviewing, and checking references, I couldn't get my regular work done,” says Pierce, owner of Commonwealth Home Remodelers in Vienna, Va. Plus, many of the hires simply weren't right for the job.

Susan Pierce, owner, Commonwealth Home Remodelers
Gred Hadley Photography Susan Pierce, owner, Commonwealth Home Remodelers

So she tried something different — she hired a headhunter. Four hires later, Pierce reports that not only is the process more successful, it has alleviated numerous problems. “The biggest benefit for us is that he finds people with the right aptitudes, ethics, and real interest areas,” she says. “Our hires don't necessarily have lots of construction experience. What they have is the disposition to do what they do well, and the aptitude and inclination to do the job.”

When looking for a headhunter, first ask how many placements they've made in your industry, advises David Heaney, president of Rockland Architecture and Rockland Builders in Newport, Del. The two companies have made six hires during the last five years through headhunters. “There is definitely a learning curve with most industries, such as different classifications, where to look for candidates, and what types of experience would be a good fit,” Heaney says. Some head-hunters use a commission-based fee; others a time-and-materials format. “Discuss how compensation is handled and what warranties they offer if the person turns out to not be a good fit,” Heaney advises.

Although the process may differ among companies, basically the headhunter will ask you for a job description and specific qualification criteria. “The more specific you are, the fewer résumés you will have to review and the higher the probability of finding a match,” says Heaney, who also uses personality profiles. “Some recruiters will administer the profile and send you the results accompanied with a résumé, or they can be performed in-house by your company after some training.”

By using a headhunter, Pierce finds that the new employees have the skills to hit the ground running, and need little supervision. “Within days they are performing well,” Pierce says. “Using a head-hunter is quite an initial investment, but it's saving us far more than that in increased productivity and reduced turnover.”