Debra Feldman
Debra Feldman

Executive Talent Agent or Headhunter

Do you know who is better in helping you land your next job?

December 3, 2009
by Debra Feldman

Having an executive talent agent is a competitive advantage providing expert confidential, personalized career guidance, exclusive entrée to prime inside connections as well as comprehensive professional services that support the daily needs of busy executives.

Executive talent agents and headhunters (also called executive search consultants or external recruiters) appear to produce the same outcome: introduce executives to potential new employers. However, there is an unmistakable distinction. The two professions are paid by, loyal to and represent separate parties that may have different priorities and opposite interests related to the same recruiting transaction.


Headhunters stay in business by satisfying their corporate client’s, i.e. an employer’s, mandate. They find appropriate prospects to fill an open position. They are not outplacement specialists. They don’t create new jobs or find spots for individuals. Headhunters are paid by employers to identify and attract new talent who exactly match the employer’s specific requirements. Their role is to source the perfect candidate and manage the applicant pool. Thus, headhunters frequently exert control over the recruiting process by limiting executives’ ability to communicate directly with company insiders, those with actual hiring authority.

Executive Talent Agents

Executive talent agents are consultants to individual executives and have been compared to the agent model in the entertainment and sports industries. As experts, they provide a competitive advantage for the individuals whose careers they manage. Their knowledge, guidance, connections and business savvy propel their clients’ success. Individual executives — not employers — pay an executive talent agent for services that include being their personal coach, mentor, representative, advocate, confidant and scout. An executive talent agent can be a long-term partner or retained on a short-term basis to advise on a job-search campaign. Their remuneration ranges from a percentage of an executive client’s annual compensation to a project-based or hourly fee. Agents usually differentiate their practice by industry sector or functional discipline.

Why Choose an Executive Talent Agent

Executive talent agents are not a substitute for executive-search consultants and vice-versa. Search consultants put their employer-clients first. Executive talent agents on the other hand evaluate situations from the personal perspective of individual executives.

Here are seven reasons why you should give executive talent agents another thought. The exclusive benefits they provide for their executive clients include:

  1. Advice and counsel gleaned from a wide range of practical industry and personal experience.
  2. Devote 100 percent of their time and resources to their client’s career management issues. Customer service is top priority. Sample assignments include developing strategy, evaluating alternatives, analyzing deal structure, researching and collecting information, preparing documents, initiating introductions, planning new mandates, conducting follow-up activities, etc.
  3. Maintain their client’s privacy and conduct business or set up meetings on a confidential basis. They pursue more rewarding future challenges consistent with your career goals.
  4. Incented financially and motivated by client’s success in finding a new job or getting promoted or closing a deal on favorable terms, not satisfying an employer’s needs.
  5. Work as an independent agent and are not restricted by employer-defined recruiting agreements that limit, which other employers they are allowed to propose an executive as a prospective candidate. Each executive’s career comes in first.
  6. Can access to the 80 percent of executive positions that are not advertised. Agents deliver leads in the hidden job market. Establish new connections for you.
  7. Bypass human and automated gatekeepers by opening closed doors to connect you with hiring decision-makers, key industry leaders and academic trendsetters. Promotes your visibility, builds your credibility and strengthens you competitive positioning for your next job.

Retaining an executive talent agent is an investment. You are most likely to appreciate and value this relationship if you that fit into any of the following categories:

  • Don’t have a network or known contacts are not generating leads;
  • High-stakes campaign: search must be confidential, discreet, sophisticated;
  • Re-entry candidate emerging from a sabbatical or early retirement;
  • Changing career or industry: needs new, targeted inside contacts;
  • Not prepared for today’s complex job market: I never had to look for a job before because I was always promoted or recruited;
  • Limited time and restricted availability for networking and researching;
  • Job search progress stalled and needs diagnostic to remove barriers;
  • Needs sharper focus and consistent execution of the right strategy; and
  • Seeking hands-on partner.


If any of the above applies to you, then an executive talent agent may be the right solution for your career’s future success.

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© 2009 Debra Feldman

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz™, a nationally-recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic and customized senior-level executive job-search campaigns, banishing barriers that prevent immediate success. Her gift for cold calling, executed with high energy and savvy panache, connects candidates directly to decision makers, not HR. Network Purposefully™ with the JobWhiz, and compress your job search into mere weeks, using groundbreaking techniques profiled in Forbes magazine. In addition to her private practice, writing featured columns and conducting exclusive workshops, Debra is a recommended resource to alumni of top-tier business schools. Contact Debra at www.jobwhiz.com to expedite your executive ascent.