A headhunter is a person who specialises in recruiting candidates to fill specific vacancies.
The element that distinguishes a headhunter from a regular recruiter is that they seek to fill specialised roles for highly qualified candidates. Often this process involves poaching or “headhunting” candidates from an existing role, as the skills they possess are desirable and often in high demand.
The purpose of engaging a headhunter to find a candidate in this way, as opposed to opening the job up for recruitment consultants to erecruit for, is to identify and secure the right person for the job instead of going through all of the steps of recruitment. A company may find that they have a particularly involved recruitment process if they were to advertise for the kind of job a headhunter is engaged to fill, as this kind of role is often highly desirable and would attract a large number of applications.
On many occasions, a company will be aware of the candidate they would like a headhunter to approach. It is not possible, or necessary, to headhunt for many roles within a company.
The objectives and expected outcome of headhunting, which is undertaken to find candidates of a certain level of seniority, are similar to those of an executive search. See more on an executive search here.