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Applicant, Beware! The 10 Biggest Lies Headhunters Tell You

Suzanne Lucas

When you're looking for a new job, you spend a lot of time working with headhunters and recruiters. Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

A recruiter works for the company for which she's hiring while a headhunter works independently. A business hires a headhunter to fill specific positions, and they only get paid when the position is filled. A recruiter gets paid no matter what. This distinction is very important when you're looking for a job. 

While most headhunters are awesome, there are a few bad apples in all professions. And there are a few things that the headhunter doesn't have control over or even insight into. After all, they are independent professionals who contract with businesses. They aren't privy to the day to day operations of the company you want to work for.

Here are 10 of the biggest lies you'll hear from a headhunter.

1. I'll Get Back to You With a Decision in Two Days

Recruiting time doesn't run like normal time. It's super rare that the timeline the headhunter gives you at the beginning is what will happen in real life. Don't take offense at an extended timeline. It happens.

2. You Are the Absolute Top Candidate

It may be true, but the headhunter can't actually verify that information until they make you the offer. Some companies do contract exclusively with one headhunter, but that doesn't mean there isn't someone else who applies outside this headhunter. Why would the headhunter say this? Because she only gets paid if you take the job. If you think there's a chance you won't get this job, you'll keep applying for others. This could result in you getting a job offer and turning it down. This is a headhunter's nightmare.

Related Article: Interviews & First Dates: The Tools You Need to Get to #2

3. This Company Is Exclusive, I'm the Only Way You Can Get In

Companies would love to hire someone without having to pay the headhunting fee, and if you know the hiring manager your best way in is directly through that hiring manager. Keep in mind, though, that once the headhunter has submitted your resume she "owns" your candidacy. If they hire you at any time, they owe the headhunter her fee--until the contracted time runs out (usually 6 months or a year).

4. My Top Priority Is Finding You a Great Position! 

No, it's not. You don't pay a headhunter (and any headhunter that asks you for cash is sleazy and you should drop her immediately). The companies pay the headhunters. The headhunter's top priority is filling the position and you are a means to an end. If she stumbles on a better candidate you will be on the back burner. Now, of course, a headhunter makes a living by presenting quality candidates so she definitely will work in your behalf if she thinks you're the best candidate. But as soon as you're not? You're not the top priority.

5. I'm an Expert in This Area

This one may be true. For a good headhunter this is true--often quality headhunters will have spent years and years in that particular industry and have connections like you wouldn't believe. But, there are also fly-by-night headhunters who are just trying to make a quick buck. You'll probably fare better on your own than working with someone without extensive experience in your industry.

6. I'm Rewriting Your Résumé to Make It Better

Again, this one can be true, but sometimes the rewritten ones turn out to be disasters. Unethical headhunters have even been known to add details that aren't true in order to get your resume noticed. That's all fine and good until you sit down in the interview and get asked about X and you have no idea what they are talking about. If your headhunter wants to rewrite your resume, make sure you give final approval.

Related Article: How to Ace the Salary Question During a Job Interview

7. I'm Handling Every Application Personally

Again, a quality headhunter does this. Others simply look at job postings listed on the internet and blast your resume out. This is very, very bad for you. Why? Because she's submitting to companies that don't have contracts with her, and hoping to get a fee if you get hired. Companies don't like dealing with this stuff, so unless you are so incredibly spectacular they are willing to go to court for you, you'll get rejected. Make sure you're very clear about what she can and cannot do with your resume.

8. You Didn't Get the Job Because... 

While it's likely that a headhunter will be more honest with this statement than a recruiter will be, take it with a grain of salt. There are a million reasons people don't get jobs, but they all boil down to the same thing: the hiring manager and company didn't love you enough to hire you. That's it. You're not a bad person. You're not even a bad employee. Now, if the headhunter tells you something concrete, believe that. "You didn't get the job because they felt your presentation skills were weak." That's probably true. "You didn't get the job because there was just someone who edged you out by a millimeter!" is probably an exaggeration.

9. I Have to Do the Negotiations for You

Now most headhunters are paid based on your starting salary so it is in their advantage to get you a higher salary, but they don't own exclusive rights on negotiations. If you've received a job offer, you can negotiate directly with the hiring manager. 

10. This Company Is the Greatest Place, Ever! 

Remember, a headhunter only gets paid if you take the job. If you found out that this place stunk, you wouldn't accept a job offer, would you? Always do your own research and your own evaluation of the company, or you may find yourself stuck in a horrible company. If she's gushing too much and has no negatives about this company, look extra hard before signing on the dotted line.

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Suzanne Lucas Member
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about how to make your business a success and your employees happy. Send her an email at