The Best Way To Recruit Top Talent: Some Alternatives to Costly Headhunters

We all know that top engineering candidates are hard to come by in today’s market. Headhunters can often be the way to go when you’re trying to identify and attract the cream of the crop in your unique field, but can you really afford one? The truth is that headhunters are cost-effective in some situations, but may not be in others. So let’s have a look at when it makes sense to use a traditional headhunter, and when it doesn’t.


A typical headhunter will cost you 20-30% of the role’s annual base salary. Is that worth it to you? That all depends on the specifics of the situation. In general, the high cost of a qualified headhunter is often justified in the following scenarios:

Large Company, Large Recruiting Budget: If you’re in a large enterprise with money earmarked for recruiting, then a good headhunter can make the whole process straightforward and worth your while by understanding your industry, your organization, and your work culture and managing the recruiting process accordingly
High-Level Role: Even for a smaller or medium-sized firm, a very prominent role that is critical to the future success of the organization may warrant working with a headhunter who knows your company and your business well enough to find the most qualified candidates
Needle in a Haystack: The job you’re trying to fill requires particularly specialized knowledge, skills, or experience. Candidates are difficult to locate and it requires a lot of creativity and networking to find qualified individuals. Recruiters often refer to the type of candidate you’re looking for using fanciful terms like “unicorn” or “purple squirrel,” the implication being that there aren’t a whole lot of them out there
Management and Manpower: Your team doesn’t have the time or manpower to deal with the recruiting process, and needs the most personalized and managed hiring service available. The cost of a headhunter is justified in your mind to avoid burdening your organization with any additional work
In situations like these, and a more personalized approach using a headhunter to take advantage of the human element is likely warranted.


In the case of a Small or Mid-sized Business hiring for fairly standardized engineering roles, however, hiring a headhunter may be overkill (not to mention over budget!). There are many great engineers out there actively and passively searching for open roles like yours, and there are many ways to find and hire them without the high cost associated with a headhunter.

Major Job Boards — Job Boards can be a good solution if you looking for an inexpensive, do-it-yourself tool to identify candidates who are readily available in the market. Posting a job on big job boards can lead to a flood of unqualified or poorly matched responses to sift through. Additionally, traditional job boards will not generate “passive” candidates who are currently working and not wanting to publicize their information. In the case of engineering, experienced talent is less likely to be actively pursuing opportunities. So while Job Boards can generate candidates very quickly, it also means your screening and interviewing process needs to be effective at weeding out low-performers and chronic switchers.

Specialty Engineering Job Boards — There are a number of specialty job boards that cater to companies hiring engineers. Like major job boards, these resources don’t provide access to passive candidates. However in some cases (depending on the board you use) the number of non-relevant responses can be reduced. A simple Google Search for ‘engineering job boards’ will provide a good list of options to explore.

LinkedIn — If you are a recruiter or hiring manager of course you know about LinkedIn, and so you know that it is a wonderful tool. LinkedIn provides better access to “passive candidates” (those who are not necessarily unemployed or actively searching for a new opportunity), which is is important because they tend to top performers. You also get greater visibility into important attributes that are often difficult to ascertain from a resume, such as career advancement pace, average length of time at former employers, and how the candidate positions him/herself. Like Job Boards, however, finding the best candidates through LinkedIn can be very time consuming.


Job boards, and the tedious nature of screening candidates are well known pain points for recruiters. Many recruiters have come to accept these challenges as part of the job, however some new technologies and tools are starting to emerge. Some categories worth exploring are psychometric testing, forums and meetups, and skills testing tools.

If you happen to be looking for Engineers, Enginuity Virtual Recruiter is a unique approach to hiring Engineers that offers many of the advantages of a personalized headhunter at a much lower price point. EVR matches candidates to your job listing based on technical qualifications, as well as work style and cultural fit. This means you get Engineers who can not only do the work, but who also are more likely to be effective team members and leaders in your organization.

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