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I've seen headhunters from both sides. In 1998 I was hired at my current employer through a headhunter, and in 2005 my wife was hired at her current employer through a different headhunter. Since 1998 I've also interviewed a number of candidates for positions with the Company. I've also had conversations and email exchanges with various headhunters. As with any profession, they vary.

Readers should be aware there are two main types of headhunter; the most expensive for the employer are "retained search" companies who are hired by an employer to fill a specific slot. Other headhunters interview candidates and then shop them around to possible employers. The thing to remember about a retained-search firm is since they are looking for a specific profile, you will either fit it or not fit, and if you don't fit that specific profile they will not spend much more time on you.

Also, in most cases a retained search firm gets paid X dollars up front, X more on hire, and a final payment after the employee has been working there for a while; I believe the headhunter who found me for my current employers in 1998 got their final payment from my employers a year after I was hired.

As with any profession, the good ones ain't cheap (for the employer, the candidate doesn't pay).