DEFINTION: “Headhunter” is a colloquial term for a human-resource or other business management professional who specializes in recruiting highly qualified candidates for executive and other senior-level positions (such as, for example, president, vice-president, chief executive officer, or chief financial officer) in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.

ETYMOLOGY: The term “headhunter” is a humorous allusion to the practice of certain indigenous tribal societies of taking their slain enemies’ heads as trophies of war.

USAGE: Headhunters may work for a larger organization, such as an executive search firm or other consulting firm, or else they may work as an independent consultant.

Filling the role of a headhunter may involve the exercise of a variety of skills, notably researching the availability of executives presently working for competitor organizations—a polite way of saying “industrial espionage.”

Once a headhunter has identified a list of highly qualified candidates who appear to fulfill the client’s requirements, the headhunter himself or the executive search firm that employs him may act as a go-between, contacting the candidates to gauge their interest in leaving their current position to move to a new employer.

Headhunters may also conduct initial interviews in order to screen the candidates to eliminate all but a small number of the best ones. Once a small pool of the best candidates has been identified, their names may be passed on to the customer.

Occasionally, the headhunter or his company may enter into direct negotiations with candidates relating to such things as compensation and benefits.

Once negotiations have been successfully concluded and both parties—the employer and the candidate—have signed off on an agreement, the headhunter may then prepare the employment contract.

The headhunter model of specialized executive search has been extremely popular—to the point where it has begun to expand into other economic sectors and to be applied to less-senior positions.