There are three categories of headhunters in the UK: Search, Agency (or Contingency), and Selection.
In the past, each category operated with a different methodology. Selection firms advertise roles and then select candidates from the responses. Selection is a declining category, and tends to most commonly combined with Agency Recruiting.
What they do
Selection firms represent companies, and recruit through advertising campaigns, ‘selecting’ a short list of candidates from the responses received. Selection recruiters used to advertise mainly in newspapers, but are now mainly on the internet: either on dedicated selection sites (for example: e-Financial News, Albourne Village, or LinkedIn); or on companies’ own ‘talent management portals’.
Most firms combine Selection with either Search or Agency headhunting. There are very few Selection-only firms these days. There used to be many Selection firms during the days of newspaper job adverts, where the whole process was more expensive and laborious due to the complexities of preparing copy for print deadlines. But the rise of the internet has effectively disintermediated and commoditised their function.
The most common combination is Selection and Agency, as Agency Recruiters tend to use adverts to hoover up extra candidates whom they can then sell to their client base. It is common for recruiters to post adverts for jobs that don’t really exist, or that they don’t have the mandate for, simply as a way of identifying new stocks of candidates to sell. So, when you respond to an advert, you may find the role has apparently already been filled. It doesn’t really matter: at least you know it’s an agency that works in the sort of area where you would like to find a job. In fact, looking at job adverts is often a good way to identify relevant Agencies to meet – just bear in mind that these will almost certainly be Agencies and not Search firms. Make a note of the names of the agencies that tend to post jobs that you like the sound of, and then call them for a general meeting.
From the candidate’s perspective, Selection is the most inefficient way of looking for a job. It is slow; it is highly competitive (we often receive a couple of hundred applicants to any advert we run), and it is also a very passive and random way of looking for a job.