Career Coaches Vs. Headhunters

By Eric Christensen

June 3, 2013 5 min read

The U.S. economy is improving, but not nearly as quickly or dramatically as was hoped. Millions of people are struggling to return to the workforce. During their job hunt, they will likely come across career coaches and headhunters. At first blush, both businesses appear to help people find jobs. But the truth is that they serve different clients and have different goals.

Career coaches work with individuals who are between jobs or making a career change, helping them develop long-term career strategies and fine-tune job searches. Erika Schreiber, senior career consultant with Greiner Consulting, says, "Our primary goal is to help them identify what they want their next step to be and then serve as their partner and guide from the beginning of their job search process to the end."

Sherri Thomas, founder and president of Career Coaching 360 and the author of "The Bounce Back" and "Career Smart," teaches her clients "job search strategies, resume development and interview coaching." For clients unsure about the next step in their career path, Thomas helps them with "brainstorming possibilities and exploring alternative career path scenarios."

Damali Curry Edwards, founder of Conscious Recruiting Inc., also works with clients who have not had to look for a job for some time. She teaches these clients how to take advantage of new technology and how to prepare for more complex job interviews. Career coaches tailor their efforts to the needs of the client, and coaching can last for a few weeks or even a few months.

Unlike headhunters, career coaches are not job placement services. They will not find jobs for you. Career coaches will expect clients to be active participants in their job search. Hallie Crawford, certified career coach and founder of, says clients "need to be a partner in the process."

Headhunters, on the other hand, are focused on job placement. But their clients are not individuals looking for a new job. Their clients are companies, nonprofit organizations, schools or government agencies with vacancies they need filled. Edwards, who also does recruiting, says: "And usually they are not calling me about the easy hiring. Usually they are calling me about a hard to fill position."

John Chappell, global marketing director for the Association of Executive Search Consultants, echoes this, saying, "In emerging markets, for example, an executive placement could be potentially difficult because of all the factors involved: needing international expertise as well as experience in the local market."

Once a hiring manager reaches out to a headhunter, they will determine the characteristics of the ideal hire. Edwards says: "They tell me that they want someone with this background, this many years of experience, this sort of education or certification. Then I go into the marketplace and look for the right person." Chappell says: "A search firm will often have research teams that compile a long list of candidates based on the company's requirements for the search. That long list is whittled down to a short list. ... The search consultant steps in and reaches out to candidates to identify which are right for the position before they put a candidate before the hiring company."

Although headhunters typically do not work on behalf of individuals, Edwards says: "If you're looking for a job, you should absolutely talk to recruiters. ... The key is to reach out to recruiters who specialize in placing people in your area of expertise." But she warns: "A recruiter's job is not to find you a job. A headhunter's job is to fill their job position. You may not fit the position they have been hired to fill. I can put you in (a) database for future positions, though. ... Timing is everything."

Edwards sums up the difference between career coaches and headhunters by saying a coach can help "when you are confused about the direction you need to take" or when you need to learn job-hunting skills. "That's not a recruiter's job," Edwards says. "When a recruiter works with you, you need to be ready to go out on an interview" for a spot the recruiter needs to fill. Take a moment to consider where you are in your job hunt and what your weaknesses are. Only then should you call upon a career coach or a headhunter.

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