If you have a marketable skill and a decent reputation there’s a good chance a head-hunter will call. You may get a personal phone call from a senior executive in the recruiting company, but it is more likely the approach is from a professional head-hunter.

Being head-hunted is flattering – though not always. I was still young the first time I was head-hunted. Instead of feeling flattered I felt insulted. At the time I worked for the leading magazine in its niche and my employer was launching new titles.

The number three publisher rang with an unsolicited job offer. Sure promotion and more money were on offer but there was still something vaguely offensive about being considered a suitable candidate to work at an also-ran company.

While being head-hunted sounds exciting, it is not always be welcome. You may be happy in your job and unwilling to move.

You may have recently moved jobs and feel that it is too soon to move on. The head-hunting company might be in another city a long way from family and friends.

It might be a company that does business in a way you don’t like.

Listen to the head-hunter

Even if you are certain you do not want to move jobs, you should at least listen to exactly what is on offer. It is unlikely you’ll get this information from the first phone call – generally it involves a short out-of-hours meeting in a bar, coffee shop or hotel lounge.

As a rule the head-hunter won’t want to wait, you’ll be pressed to arrange a meeting within days of the first contact.

If nothing else, it is worth sacrificing an hour and shuffling appointments to get a clearer picture of your worth on the job market.

There are two exceptions:

First, I’d flatly turn down a meeting if I suspected its real purpose was a fishing expedition for a business rival. Some people think you’d be so flattered by a job offer that you’ll spill the beans on your current employer.

To avoid the risk of this you should first check that the person approaching you is a genuine head-hunter. This is rarely easy, if possible ask someone he or she has previously placed for a reference.

If the person is an executive of the hiring company or another go-between, try to check they have a good reputation. You should check a head-hunter or recruiter before divulging any information.

If you are still suspicious, then before agreeing to meet ask them how long the job has been vacant and why it became vacant. Also ask why they selected you. You’ll probably hear some flattering words, but try to see through the smarm and decide whether you are a serious candidate for a real job.

Tread carefully

When you do meet, if they quiz you about your current employer on no account offer any information – even if the company does choose to hire you later on, your disloyalty will be on the record. More to the point, there may have been no intention of employing you.

You need to play things by ear. The recruiter may ask you legitimate questions designed to show whether you could be persuaded to leave your current job.

I’d also be unwilling to meet a head-hunter if I thought the offer was insincere in any other way – it’s not unknown for people in multilevel marketing schemes to try to pass themselves off as head-hunters.

Likewise some headhunting offers are primarily designed to sew discontent or otherwise disrupt operations. I’ve even come across recruitment consultants who claim they are head-hunters when they are just looking to fill a difficult vacancy.

A head-hunter may call asking for your help finding someone to fill a job or for a reference for someone being head-hunted. The first case may be a subtle way of determining your interest in the job. Both types of call can be a form of sounding out – the same recruiter might ring back months or years later with an offer.

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