YOU hear about a friend landing a great job through a headhunter and you wonder what he has that you haven’t.

How does someone become a target for headhunters? What do they look for?

These days, employers are very specific about their needs, and using headhunters to locate talent has become a popular option.

Here are some of the more employable traits that employers and headhunters seek:

Expertise in your field

When headhunters start mapping an industry, they talk to people within that industry.

They ask these people to recommend who they think is the best or is known for a specific line of work.

This means you need to be visible and be among the best in your field.

Some people do this by attending industry events and conferences.

Others write articles and speak at conferences, so they are known and looked up to for their opinions and views.

Value-added skills

In this multi-cultural and diverse environment, some profiles stand out even more.

Headhunters seek people with skills, experience or exposure that can add value to their clients’ organisations.

This includes overseas postings, assignments or educational exposure and the ability to speak other languages.

“As headhunters, we often see one candidate losing out to another just based on some of these attributes,” says Mr Mark Lam, principal consultant at BTI Consultants.

He recommends that young managers gain overseas exposure and be willing to live and work abroad.

Positive image

While social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are popular, people in senior or high-profile positions must be vigilant in monitoring what gets published about themselves.

Also monitor what your children say about you in sites like Facebook. Their comments may be fine in a social setting but if you are interviewing for a job, some personal information is best kept private.


Where you come from in terms of education, family background and your social circles are important in some jobs.

Some headhunters want to know more about your background and family circumstances because they know that sometimes it just takes one family member to influence a candidate from taking a job.

Employment status

A company usually uses headhunters when it wants to reach passive candidates who are not actively looking for a change.

From a headhunter’s perspective, being unemployed can make you less attractive as a candidate.

However, it is prudent to discuss your desire to move from your current role only with those you trust.

People you know

The headhunting profession thrives on connections, so whom you know is important.

Stay on friendly terms with headhunters; they will remember you and keep you in their contact base.


You would have spent a substantial time in a role, job or company to make a sufficient impact and build a successful track record.

For a more senior position, employers are probably looking for depth of experience.

However, on the flip side, headhunters and employers can also consider breadth of experience a plus, as it can point to a candidate’s versatility and adaptability to different challenges and environments and cultures.

Strategic career move

Be strategic with your career move.

Don’t get enticed by just the lure of an attractive package or title. While you know this is common sense, even very senior-level candidates make this mistake.

Consider longer-term impact, employability and lifestyle changes when you accept an offer.

Credibility of headhunter

The term “headhunting” can be used rather loosely. Just approaching a prospect about an available job isn’t really headhunting.

Check out the headhunter before you divulge any information about yourself.

Company reputation, experience in the business and reputation of the senior leadership team are all factors that separate a good headhunter from one who is just trying to earn a fee.

Career decisions are big decisions, and getting headhunted is just the start of that process. Be open to discussion and be wise.