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  • Date posted:02/03/2020
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In an increasingly challenging job market, many executives are unsure about how to secure their next tenure. Sure, the age-old methods of job hunting still apply – networking, outreach and applying to job advertisements – but they should not be relied upon in isolation to secure your next executive tenure. An estimated seventy per cent of jobs are not advertised, so if you really want to get on the hiring manager’s radar, then you need to be proactive in your job search, and open to being headhunted by recruiters and hiring managers, for they can grant you access to the hidden job market.

Employee referrals, networking and headhunting are increasingly utilised by hiring managers to find and secure high-impact talent. This is commonplace for confidential searches where the identity of the hiring organisation cannot be disclosed. Confidential searches occur in situations when public knowledge of the search could bring about internal or external uncertainty.

Confidential roles aren’t advertised. To be considered, you need to be on the hiring manager’s radar. You can do this by several means;

  • Send a pain letter to the Hiring Manager
  • Connect with the Hiring Manager on LinkedIn
  • Work with the headhunter working on the search

However, consideration of confidential roles is only one of the benefits of working with headhunters. The majority of searches a headhunter works on are not confidential. More often than not, the hiring manager has struggled to find high-calibre talent, or simply doesn’t have the resources or expertise in house to deliver a search, and has approached an executive search firm to assist him or her. Headhunting brings many benefits for hiring managers because it targets both active and passive candidates:

  • Active candidates are seeking new opportunities. They may be employed (termed tiptoers) or unemployed. They are applying to job adverts, reaching out to hiring managers and are open to hearing about new opportunities.
  • Passive candidates are not seeking new opportunities. They are currently employed and aren’t looking to move anytime soon. However, they may be open to new opportunities, providing the role is a career or lifestyle-enhancing move.

Headhunting allows the hiring manager to widen their reach and identify and engage the very best candidates, whether they’re actively pursuing a new opportunity or not. While you may not be open to new opportunities, building relationships with hiring managers and headhunters will help to set you up for success.

Here is a list of strategies that will help you get headhunted:

1. Establish your online presence

If you want to be approached by a headhunter, you need to be visible online. One of the best ways to get on a headhunter’s radar is to be proactive on social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter) and industry forums or communities. Many executives forget the power of their personal brand, and social media is one of the most effective channels for amplifying their reach.

Organisations also use social media to find candidates. In fact, many organisations agree that social media helps them to recruit; eighty-two per cent say that targeting passive candidates is the top reason they recruit via social media.

Here are a couple of ways to establish your online presence and get headhunted:

  • Be found on social media: That means, at the very least, creating a LinkedIn account and regularly updating it. Ensure you craft an attention-grabbing headline, summary, upload a professional portrait and update detail your accomplishments, education and work history. You’re after LinkedIn’s “All-Star” status. Receive that, and you know you can be found by headhunters. 
  • Position yourself as a thought leader: Social media allows you to connect with peers in your industry. LinkedIn is particularly good at this. Once you’ve connected, the best way to demonstrate your expertise is to share knowledge and wisdom with your network. Add value by posting content relevant to your industry and expertise, and air your opinion via comments and forums on industry news and trends. At the very least, you’ll add value to your network. Do it right and you could become a go-to source of information. It will also demonstrate to prospective hiring managers that you are an expert in your field.
  • Join Forums and Communities: Forums and community groups are a fantastic way to grow your network and boost your reputation. However, it’s important that you don’t just become a passive bystander. You should actively contribute and provide personal insight to further a discussion or argument. Providing your comments adds value, other members of the community will start to take note. LinkedIn groups or Quora are particularly good for demonstrating your expertise and getting noticed. 

Establishing an online presence and demonstrating your expertise will attract hiring managers and headhunters. Thought leaders are perceived as individuals who are innovative and visionary – qualities that are highly valued and respected in senior leadership positions. Using social media effectively will help you get headhunted.

2. Network

We’ve already touched on the power of networking above. A whopping eighty-five per cent of jobs are filled through employee referrals and networking. This demonstrates the importance of establishing a robust network. Building relationships with peers in your industry is advantageous as they’ll know your strengths, expertise and achievements to refer you when positions open up. Seventy per cent of individuals are hired at organisations where they already had a connection, demonstrating the true value of referrals. Alternatively, it’s not uncommon for members of your network to reach out to you directly. When positions open up, they may serve as the hiring manager, which gives you an even greater chance of securing the role.

Many executives prefer to network on LinkedIn, engaging with professionals through comments, messages and shares. Your network on LinkedIn should consist of your peers, ex-colleagues, key influencers and headhunters. However, you shouldn’t discredit the traditional method of face-to-face networking. Conferences and exhibitions are great places to deliver your executive elevator pitch that showcases who you are and what you do. Once you’ve established the start of a relationship, you can exchange business cards and arrange regular catch-ups. For example, if you’re aware that they’re attending the same conference, you could get in touch and suggest meeting for a coffee or drink.

It’s important to remember that networking is a two-way street. While it can be tempting to steer the conversation towards you and your achievements, there’s nothing more off-putting than someone who’s only out for themselves. If you want them to keep you in mind, then you need to hone your listening skills. Be sure to actively listen, ensuring the conversation revolves around them rather than you.

For the ultimate guide to networking, read our blog: How To Build And Maintain Your Professional Network.

3. Ensure your job search touchpoints are up-to-date

You reduce the odds of getting headhunted if you don’t keep your job search touchpoints up-to-date and well-formatted. You job search touchpoints are your CV, Pain Letter, LinkedIn profile and personal website, if applicable:

  1. Phone number and email address: If the contact details on your job search touchpoints are inconsistent, out of date, or worse, absent, how do you expect hiring managers or headhunters to get in touch? Ensure your touchpoints contain accurate and consistent contact information.
  2. Achievements: Ensure your most recent achievements are present across your job search touchpoints. 
  3. Career history: There’s nothing more costly than missing out key information relating to your most recent positions. With the exception of your pain letter, ensure your career history is up-to-date and consistent across all your job search touchpoints. They don’t have to be carbon copies, however. While your CV should be concise, you can elaborate on your career history on LinkedIn and your personal website. If you have any obvious gaps in your career history, write a sentence or two explaining your absence.
  4. Qualifications: Like career history, make sure your qualifications are up-to-date and consistent across your job search touchpoints. Qualifications are often used to prequalify candidates as to their suitability for a role. Miss this, miss out on being headhunted.
  5. Formatting: Ensure good spelling, grammar and punctuation across all your job search touchpoints. Nothing shouts poor attention to detail more than poor punctuation and spelling. Run your job search touchpoints through spell-checking software such as Grammerly, or have a friend or family member proofread them for you. They could even give you pointers on how you might improve your job search touchpoints.

4. Be open to change

There may be times in your career when you’re approached by a headhunter or hiring manager, but you’re not interested in hearing about new opportunities. Be polite, find out why they approached you, what the opportunity entails, and weigh up your options. While you might be completely satisfied in your current position, you never know what the future holds. Treat it as an opportunity to network and build a relationship. There may be a time in the future when you’re seeking a new position and having an established connection with a headhunter or hiring manager could be the fundamental deciding factor. As long as you’ve been polite when they’ve reached out to you previously and maintained contact over time, they’re far more likely to help you.


Being headhunted opens up many opportunities for talented executives. However, it’s only successful if you make it easy for headhunters to find and reach out to you. If you’re actively pursuing new roles or are open to hearing about opportunities, consider incorporating some or all of these strategies into your job search. Even if you’re not currently searching for a new position, remember that establishing relationships now could help you in future when you are more open to new opportunities.

For more job-search advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life sciences…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.