Learn How to Speak the Language of Recruitment


Glenn Bass, CPA, Director of Recruiting, Security & Investigative Placement Consultants, LLC
Bethesda, Md.

Whether you are currently hiring new employees or deep in the middle of your own job search, there is tremendous value in understanding recruitment lingo. As a result of speaking with both hiring managers and job seekers on a daily basis, I realize that not everyone has a solid understanding of some of the basic terminology used in the recruitment process. Here are some common terms you’ll hear:

Recruiter or Headhunter:  Recruiter can refer to either an in-house recruiter or a third-party/agency recruiter, also known as a headhunter. Headhunter is a term generally used to describe third-party/agency recruiters, who work on commission or retained search on behalf of a client and are the ones most likely to call you up at your current job to headhunt you for another position. Recruiter, on the other hand, is used to describe anyone who recruits candidates. This includes headhunters, but also includes corporate recruiters (also called in-house recruiters), who work within organizations and are less likely to headhunt candidates. 

Contingent Search and Retained Search: A retained search is where a firm is hired by a company to fill a specific position. The company and the retained search firm work together as a team, in an exclusive relationship, and the company pays the search firm for their efforts as the search progresses. The search firm understands the hiring company’s culture and becomes thoroughly familiar with the specific position that is the object of the search. Thus the search firm can work closely with both the client and the candidate to obtain a successful cultural, technical and personal fit. The retained process ensures that the firm finds a qualified candidate based on the company’s particular specifications.

A contingent search is where company contacts a firm to fill a position. The company can and usually will engage multiple firms. The contingent search firm earns a fee only if a résumé they submit to the client results in that person being hired. This requires contingent search firms to deal in a high volume, transactional type of relationship, quickly submitting many résumés to a client and often the same résumé to multiple clients.  

Active Candidate: Someone who is actively looking for a new position. They’ve registered with a recruitment agency; they have automatic feeds coming in from Indeed.com or job boards; and they’re definitely interested in hearing about new opportunities.

Passive Candidate: This is someone who is happy in their current role. They are not actively out in the job market pursuing opportunities. However, if approached, they would listen and entertain a conversation to learn more about the opportunity. 

Applicant Pool: The group of candidates who has either applied for a position or has been approached and is interested in pursuing the position.

Shortlist: The candidates, usually four to six individuals, who are under serious consideration and have been evaluated and preliminarily qualified for the role.

Topgrading:  Topgrading is a methodology used by companies to create the highest quality workforce by ensuring that talent acquisition and talent management processes focus on identifying, hiring, promoting and retaining high performers in the organization. The high performers are often called “A Players.” It’s also the best practice for promoting people, coaching and retaining top talent.

Whether you’re a candidate or a hiring manager, a headhunter can be an important asset.  If you know how headhunters work and how they can help you, you’ll be ahead of the game. Keep in mind that headhunters ultimately work for the client company, but they can have a vested interest in helping a candidate at the same time.