Job Search

How many times have you been called up by headhunters in the last 12 months? Did you ever ask how the recruiter got hold of your details? This article lists some of the most common ways recruiters find you.

When called up by a recruiter, most people are baffled and have no idea how they were identified. The curious amongst us have to ask in order to avoid sleepless nights. When prompted, the headhunters are likely to say that you were recommended by somebody who “wants to remain anonymous but rest assured, they have only good things to say about you”. This is however rarely the case. Giving referrals of current colleagues without their permission is risky business and most people avoid doing this. Therefore the recruiter has most likely employed craftier techniques to find you.

The 5 main methods recruiters employ to find you:

1. Application

The obvious one, you send your resume out for a job you have seen posted on the recruiters website or a job board. The bad news is that in my 7 years experience of permanent recruitment, I rarely saw placements made from a direct application. Not sure whether this is because the wrong people apply or the recruiter not fully grasping what he or she is looking for.

2. Database

Recruiters will have your details on file if you have ever sprayed your CV out for whatever jobs (very easily done as most postings on job boards are from agencies). You will be on their database, thanks to their CRM software they should have a pretty good idea of what you do/did. But your contact details are likely to be out of date so it can take some time for a recruiter to track you down.

3. Social Media

LinkedIn and other networking sites are veritable goldmines for headhunters. Before the advent of such sites, they had to map out companies by slowly extracting information from every person they spoke to. Nowadays, most of your colleagues will be listed and all it takes for an industrious recruiter is to pick up the phone. Remember that by putting your details on LinkedIn, you have told the world what you do and you are fair game for headhunters.

4. Employee lists

This happens less nowadays but still very useful for the resourceful recruiter. Sometimes a disgruntled former employee will offer a list of their colleagues, complete with mobile numbers, email and even home address details to the highest bidding recruitment agency. I have seen instances where entire teams have been ripped out of one company and put into another through the use of employee lists. If you are a manager (and you want to keep your team) you will want to ensure vital information like this is not readily available to download from your intranet.

5. Cover story

This method is used when all else fails. The recruiter will call in to your company, pretending to be a client or a colleague from a different office and asking for the person that does your job. The sharp headhunter will single out a ‘soft target’ such as the IT support guy or the canteen lady and lay on a cock and bull story as to why they need the information ASAP. Sometimes they get lucky but most of the time this will be a very time consuming exercise and may not lead to anything.


Don’t be offended by a recruiter using ‘creative’ ways to find the right people. This practice is after all highly appreciated by their clients (who needs somebody to do their dirty work) as the CVs offered will be very different to that of their direct applicants. Remember that any recruiter can sift through applications from a job advertisement but only a few are good enough to pro-actively sniff out the best people in the market.

I would recommend you stay close to this recruiter as he or she is likely to be just as pro-active working with companies – thus ensuring they have the best vacancies for candidates like yourself.

How do recruiters get hold of you? Please share your story!

Image: Shutterstock

Related: 10 Ways to Get Yourself Headhunted.

About Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO at Link Humans, a social and digital marketing agency.

Get weekly recruiting and career tips direct to your inbox!

Load Comments