Finding a Headhunter (in Germany) – How to Choose a Trustworthy Recruiting Company

You’re looking for a first-rate candidate for a specialist or management position in a company or subsidiary in Germany? You don’t have the resources or don’t want don’t want your name to appear?

Then you must be considering engaging a headhunter or an HR consultant.  Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have landed here.

Finding the right headhunter is a challenge. You have to trust that he knows exactly who you’re looking for and can provide you with the best possible candidates.

But you only know how good he is really afterward.

What is the best way to go about finding a headhunter in Germany?

What Is a Headhunter?

To make sure we’re talking about the same thing: What exactly is a headhunter?

A headhunter is an HR consultant who is commissioned by a company to look for candidates for a specific position.

He spends a lot of time identifying appropriate candidates and investigates in depth whether they are suitable for the position both professionally and personally.

Headhunters are primarily used for recruiting managers and highly qualified specialized staff.

Via their contacts headhunters have access to candidates that companies cannot find or can only find with difficulty.

Also, companies often want to remain anonymous and not advertise high positions. Why? For example, to prevent rumors from circulating among their employees or competitors.

Graphic: Reasons for HR managers to engage a headhunter.


Terms like executive search, executive recruiting, direct approach, and direct search are often used synonymously with headhunting.

Headhunters work for HR consultants or are independent.

The opposite of a headhunter is a recruiter, who can fill positions in the short term and at low cost. A recruiter selects candidates for a job based only on superficial criteria – for example, the amount of job experience the person has. The employer himself has to find out which of the candidates is really appropriate for a given position.

Finding Good Headhunters – Why Is It So Difficult?

Human resource managers often have a hard time differentiating between good and bad HR consultants.

In a survey, more than two-thirds of the respondents with less than two years of professional experience agreed with this statement. And more than a third of the HR consultants with more than ten years experience agreed with it.

Graphic: Many human resource managers have a hard time finding good headhunters.


This uncertainty – even among experienced managers – is due to the fact that the market for HR consultants is quite non-transparent and unregulated.

Neither the profession of headhunter nor that of HR consultant is regulated. Anyone who registers a business can call herself that.

A number of “living room headhunters” tries to exploit the staff shortages of many companies and earn quick money.

This is confirmed by the negative experiences that participants in the aforementioned survey had.

Signs of providers being disreputable include pushy self-advertising, presentation of unqualified candidates, and not having any experience in the industries or areas of responsibility in which they want to fill jobs.

Graphic: Disreputable headhunters are often obtrusive and do not offer quality for the money.

Of course, most of the 7,000 HR consultants employed by some 2,000 consulting companies are reputable and understand their trade.

But not every headhunter really fits with you: your industry, your company, or to the job you are advertising.

Which criteria can you use to find a perfect match for you?

Graphic: Some 7,000 HR consultants work in Germany (including headhunters). – Source

Quality Characteristics of Headhunters

Ultimately, the quality of the candidates provided determines how good or bad a headhunter is.

Unfortunately, you can only judge this when you are already cooperating with the headhunter.

You, therefore, have to orient yourself to different criteria in advance to find the right partner.

The size of the company says little about quality. Whether you prefer to work with an international HR consultant or a small consulting team, say, from your region completely depends on your requirements and your taste.

But “from the region” is a selection criterion for fruit and vegetables and not for HR consultants!

The following aspects characterize a headhunter who does serious work and fits you.

Exclusive Candidate Search

A headhunter works exclusively for you after you have commissioned her. Otherwise, he is – as mentioned – not a headhunter but a recruiter.

He starts searching after he has developed a requirement profile for the position together with you. He doesn’t send you a profile for a job ad unless he is asked to. He will not promise to provide you with ten suitable candidates in the space of a week. He will not quickly send you existing candidates from a database, nor will He present one candidate to several clients at the same time.

The headhunter looks for appropriate candidates for you and only you.

Professional Appearance

Does the HR consultant have an appealing website? Does he list services and references? Is the last message in his blog three years old? Does he provide a phone number at which he can actually be reached?

His appearance does not have to be fancy, but he should be well groomed and look professional. Anything else should make you suspicious.


Has the headhunter been active for a number of years, no matter whether he is self-employed or an employee – and can he document this with references? Then he would have had to prove herself in a competitive market and would seem to have done many things right.

Experience isn’t everything. But it goes without saying that you shouldn’t hire a beginner to recruit highly qualified candidates and managers.

In addition, the headhunter should have worked previously in the industry for which he is looking for staff. If her job is to fill management positions, he should have management experience herself. Otherwise, he cannot claim to understand the requirements for such a position.

Industry Expertise

Every sector ticks differently and has its own special requirements that it places on employees. Not all IT managers are the same. It makes a big difference whether he works for a bank, a machine builder, or a software provider.

Alongside an understanding of the culture and trends in an industry, a headhunter needs to have expert knowledge. He has to really understand the duties involved in a position. He has to be able to answer professional questions asked by candidates about the position advertised.

This is especially important in complex fields, for example, the technology and the digital sector. A headhunter who doesn’t understand anything about the business lacks credibility in the eyes of clients and candidates.

Graphic: When looking for headhunters, make sure they have a professional appearance and a clearly recognizable specialization.

Excellent Network

Successful headhunters maintain and cultivate their network carefully for years on end. This is their most valuable asset.

Via their network, they often get recommendations and come into contact with top-notch candidates who are not looking for jobs and thus are practically unreachable for regular recruiting measures.

Naturally, HR consultants do not disclose their network to you. But many years of experience in an industry and appropriate references are an indication that the headhunter has a good network.


Look for a headhunter who is specialized in your industry and/or the field of activity of the position to be filled.

“Those who do everything, don’t do anything right,” goes a well-known German saying. This also applies to headhunting.

No one can build experience, expertise, and a network in umpteen different branches of industry.

If you find a headhunter who has visibly specialized in an industry, you are already a big step further!

We at espiridon specialize in executive search for the digital economy and digital positions and have done nothing else for 14 years!


Every reputable headhunter will agree on a fee with you that you will pay in several installments regardless of the progress that has been made in the project.

For example: Part of the sum right after the headhunter is commissioned, another part after the presentation of the candidates, and the rest when a candidate signs the contract.

From the very beginning, a headhunter puts a lot of work into looking for candidates and guarantees you quality. In cases of doubt, he will make another round rather than foisting unsuitable candidates on you.

A purely success-dependent fee would force her to find a candidate as soon as possible and is therefore not a characteristic of a good headhunter.

Headhunters normally calculate the amount of the fee as a percentage of the annual salary (target income) of the position to be filled. Some headhunters have fixed prices, for example, if they want to fill several positions at once or fill management positions with high salaries.

According to a study conducted by the Association of German Management Consultants (BDU), fees range from 20 % to 40 % of the target income.

Graphic: On average, headhunters charge 26 % of the target income of a candidate as their fee.

Filling Positions with New Candidates Free of Charge

Sometimes candidates or companies notice during the probationary period that they weren’t made for each other.

A good headhunter takes responsibility and vouches for his work. He will fill a position free of charge if the employment relationship is terminated during the probationary period and the reasons are serious and understandable.

This regulation gives you security. You can assume that the headhunter is extremely motivated to find a candidate who is a perfect match for you. Because if he doesn’t, he may have to do twice as much work to find another candidate without earning a cent more!

Transparency and Honesty

Ask a headhunter about her search methods, her selection processes, her fee, and so on.

If he is reputable, he will openly provide you with information about everything – in headhunting or in executive search there are no special methods that have to be kept secret.

Here we describe the six steps of our executive search process.

Nor will a good headhunter promise you the moon. He will not claim to be able to meet unrealistic expectations on your part, but give you an honest appraisal of your commission and address potential challenges.

If there is any doubt and He is not convinced of a project, he will turn down the commission.

The Personal Impression Is What Counts

If the basic data are right, invite the headhunter for a personal interview. Talk about your company and the position, and ask the headhunter to tell you what is important to him.

What questions does he have? How does he cater to your needs?

You will notice relatively quickly whether you are a good match, whether he is enthusiastic about what you do or if it’s only “business as usual.”

A headhunter will represent your company. He will be the face candidates see first and he has to arouse the candidate’s interest in the job.

His work and decisions will influence your company in the long term.

Honestly answer questions such as:

  • Will the headhunter represent you positively as an employer and strengthen your image?
  • Does he adapt to your wishes and requirements and does he understand your way of thinking?
  • Does he fit with your corporate culture?
  • Does he have knowledge about what you do?
  • Does he explain convincingly how he will find appropriate candidates for you?
  • Does he have strong communication skills?
  • Can he talk with top candidates on an equal footing and kindle their enthusiasm?
  • Can the headhunter advise you beyond your search for staff?
  • Is he open to you or does he simply say what you want to hear?

Only commission him if the chemistry is right. If the facts and your gut feeling say: He is the right one! If you are convinced that you can trust him and that he will do his best for you.

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