The Headhunter Always Rings Twice

You’ve been making boatloads of money trading derivatives for a bulge bracket investment bank in New York. You’re happy with your job, and your employer is happy with you (because you’ve making them boatloads of money).

One day, you reach for the phone on your desk, expecting it to be the bond analyst you called 20 minutes earlier, but instead it’s Ms. So and So from X, Y, Z & Co., a firm you’ve never heard of because, you soon learn, it’s a executive recruiting firm. In the next 45 seconds you also learn that X, Y, Z has been enlisted by another bulge bracket investment bank (which happens to be one of your firm’s major competitors) to hire someone that does exactly what you do.

This recently happened to a VP of sales and trading, who had to make a quick decision: Do I take the call or not?

Some execs are naturally leery of taking calls from recruiters. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll be overheard. Maybe you’re happy as a clam in your current gig. Or maybe you’re just too brutally busy to bother.

But keep a few things in mind. One, headhunters are paid by the firm looking to hire you, so nothing comes out of your pocket if you end up taking the position. Two, headhunters aren’t cold callers; they’ve received your name after a detailed search for qualified candidates, likely asking other firms in the industry that work with yours, and perhaps even speaking to some of your clients. Three, even though you might know right away the job’s not a good fit for you and you might lose several minutes of valuable work time by speaking to the headhunter about the opportunity, in taking the call and being respectful, you’ll have developed a relationship with the headhunter who might call you again with another opportunity, which just might be that perfect fit.

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Overall, you have little to lose by listening to the headhunter’s offer. When taking the call, be respectful, listen carefully, ask questions and seriously consider the offer. You never know, it could just be the job you’ve been looking for (without having to look for it). And if not, you just might hear back in the near future with an offer you can’t refuse.

As for the VP, she listened to the headhunter, decided to interview for the job and, after several rounds of interviews, was offered the position— which promised more compensation and, more important, a new working environment, new coworkers, a new trading floor and new management. “I’d been working for the same firm for seven years,” she says, “and even though I was happy where I was, I figured a change would be good.”

Two months into her new job, her hunch has been right on. Working with different people in a different office for a different firm has indeed reenergized her and put her on an even faster career track – and as a bonus, she enjoyed her first month-long vacation in a long time.

Marcy Lerner is the VP of Content and Editorial Research at She graduated from the University of Virginia and has a MA in history from Yale University.