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Rules of Engagement

By May 30, 2013One Comment

I was asked by a client recently what the rules were around rec to rec’s making attempted head hunt calls to his staff.    It wasn’t a pointed call to me, accusing me of anything.  I’ve never tried approaching any of his staff because I value our business relationship and recognise the damage it would do to that.  He had one particular rec to rec recruiter sniffing around his senior consultants, and naturally he didn’t like it.

The answer, of course, is that there are no rules.

In fact, even asking the question is a fairly quaint kiwi affection, probably because it doesn’t actually happen very often here.  In the UK most recruiters receive at least one headhunt call per day, usually with absolutely no specific direction or purpose other than hoping to get a disgruntled recruiter and flick them across to a slightly better employer for a large fee.  So the answer, were it asked in the UK, would be to gather your team together and laugh at the poorly constructed attempt at a headhunt, whilst teaching your team how to do it properly, and making them realise the stupidity required to entrust your career in the hands of such a scatter-gun operator.  Certainly no sleep would be lost over it.

But here in New Zealand it is different, naturally.  We in recruitment are a small tight-knit community operating in a small tight-knit market.  Blundering your way into a clumsy headhunt call is likely to generate more than a polite refusal, it will tarnish your reputation and destroy your credibility with that client, who you will probably find yourself awkwardly standing next to at a mutual mate’s barbeque at the weekend.

However, to successfully recruit for your client in such a tight and talent short market then a well directed, well researched, and specifically targeted direct approach is often the best course of action.  In fact it is sometimes the only course of action.

So what, then, are the rules around which clients you can source or headhunt from?  This, like everything about the dark art of headhunting, is totally open to debate (which I encourage you to all do in the comments below).  I think it basically comes down to the strength of character and moral fortitude of the recruiter in question.  Obviously, it is nonsensical to suggest you could get away with headhunting from existing clients you’re currently recruiting for (I’m pretty sure even in the UK that would be frowned upon!)

But what about a client you haven’t made any placements with for two years?  Or for one year?  How about six months?  Do they still count as being a “client” really?  Would they regard you as a “supplier”?  If the answer is no, then plunder away, if you will.

There was an interesting email sent out to some recruitment companies recently, by another rec to rec consultant who has decided to officially go “part-time”:



I just wanted to let you know that I am doing a project at the —, on a part time basis.  I am still running — and I am focussing my recruitment efforts onto my favourite recruitment clients… hopefully you will get even better service!!


I am looking forward to helping this great team at —, however I will still be committed to sourcing you the best recruiters through —.

Many thanks



The bit that caught my attention was “…focussing my recruitment efforts onto my favourite recruitment clients.”  Nice for the ones receiving the email, I suppose.  But are you a recruitment firm that didn’t receive the email?  So are you not one of their “favourites”?  Do you care?  Does this now make you “fair game” for them to headhunt your staff even if you only recently did business with them?

The answer to all of this is that there are no rules.  It comes down purely to how much front the headhunter has, how strong their moral compass, how entrenched their sense of ethics, and how willing they are to potentially destroy a business relationship for the sake of making a quick fee elsewhere.  In the UK the rules are different to those in Australia, which are certainly way different to those in New Zealand.  But there is one universal truth amongst all of this:  You’re not a “client” until you’ve paid for the recruitment services of a recruiter.  I’m afraid that just lodging an assignment, a role, a request in with a recruiter doesn’t indemnify you against receiving headhunt calls for your staff.

My top tip, for what it’s worth, is that there’s little point fretting over calls to your staff.  Focus your efforts on creating a positive culture of success that engenders loyalty and if one of your team is lured away, don’t blame the headhunter, look at yourself and ask why they felt it might be better elsewhere.


Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.

One Comment

  • NZRec says:

    Interesting comments Jon, I actually received that rec-to-rec e-mail, and was actually surprised to be nominated as a ‘favourite’.

    On the headhunting issue, when does the call officially become ‘headhunting’. Sure you may have done your research on Linkedin, spoken to a few people ‘in the know’ or whatever. But, if you have a CV on your DB from a couple of years ago, with little contact with that candidate since they applied for what is likely to be completely different role, is that not effectively headhunting too? Perhaps otherwise known as ‘passive candidates’, an un-solicited call?

    I did receive a ‘headhunt’ call a couple of months ago from a large global company who have recently integrated their IT section, I wasn’t interested as they called on my landline, didn’t even ask if I could talk and went straight into the pitch. If that’s the way you business, you cannot be serious!

    If you work closely with a client, then you shouldn’t poach their staff, however if one of their staff approaches you, then you have an obligation to help them find a role.

    Good subject!