ROI - Recruitment Agency or Headhunter?

March 12, 2021

Over the past 20 years, we have seen ebbs and flows in the cost of recruitment.  Linkedin, Job Boards and CRM's were but a dream back when I started.  My tools were a landline telephone, index cards, a significant number of filing cabinets and tenacity.

Now we have many, many tools that promise to cut down on time to hire, reduce the cost of hire and make finding the perfect candidate so much easier..... or does it?

What's the difference?

The main difference between a recruitment agency and headhunting is that a recruitment agency will find a person who will accept the job. A head hunter will find the best person for the job.  Now before I get too much flack, occasionally, very occasionally, that person is the same!

1. Candidates

A recruitment agency looks for active job seekers, whereas a headhunter searches for passive candidates and not actively seeking a new role. 

Finding the right candidate for a role is also differently handled by Headhunters.  Recruitment Agencies typically place adverts on job boards, post on social media channels or search their CRM for suitable candidates.  When a headhunter takes a job order, they explore the entire market for the best person for the role, even those who are not currently active, to provide the best candidates to their client.

2. Quality Vs Quantity

Recruitment agencies typically work in a non-exclusive manner with their clients, and such speed is of the essence.  They will often put forward candidates with a broad skillset and to multiple clients.  A headhunter usually works in an exclusive partnership with their client to deliver the vacancy's closest fit as possible.  Upon completion of a role, headhunters will be paid for the job, whereas a recruitment agency will receive a commission if the candidate supplied gets the job.  

3. Loyalty to your company

As mentioned previously, Recruitment Agencies work on many non-exclusive roles, so their focus will always be on quantity.  There is little time spent getting to know and understand their candidates, and they will essentially want to be 'first past the post' with a CV before moving on to the next role. 

Headhunters reputations are built on client and candidate satisfaction.  They need to find the very best talent for a specific role.  These candidates are usually not easy to find, and as they are passive are challenging to get into a process for your client.  It is not unusual for a headhunter to spend hours with a candidate, selling the client company and the opportunity to a candidate, then interviewing them against the client's job order. They then submit detailed notes in the fit with their client needs.

4. Direct Marketing of your business

The amount of care a headhunter takes when representing your business, presenting it in a positive light to senior people in your industry, raises your business profile.   Agency recruiters are transactional, don't speak to the passive market place, or necessarily sell your business's virtues to their candidates.


An exclusive relationship with a headhunter will always ensure that if discretion is required, then that is what you will get.  Again, the key difference is that an Agency will operate in a non-exclusive manner with the client, and speed will be the driver and not confidentiality.

6. Candidate Longevity & Success

In general passive candidates moving to a new role will have longer tenure in their new business.  They are career-focused and less likely to job hop.  Often, the recruitment cost is overly simplified to a percentage of first years salary.  Companies all too often take a short-term view of recruitment costs, but the reality is that the length of service and the continuity it brings to your business saves thousands of pounds in the long term.  Whilst headhunting doesn't guarantee you longevity; it does maximise the chances of getting a significantly better return on investment than a traditional recruitment agency.

So with all of this in mind, we come back to the cost.  As identified above, your business gains significant benefits in operating in an exclusive 'headhunt' style approach.   There return on your investment makes it a significantly better bet.  

There are significant savings to be made to reduce your HR teams' time burden and better information to the key decision-makers.

Often people think that head hunters can be prohibitively expensive.  Well, why not speak to us today and find out?  I think you will be pleasantly surprised!