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Headhunter in Germany: Attract Top Executives

Working with a Headhunter in Germany has long been a standard practice for large corporations only.  In times of severe shortage of talented specialists and executives, it becomes increasingly difficult for HR departments to find and attract top candidates through traditional recruitment channels. 

Therefore, small and medium-sized companies are now more than ever  taking advantage of headhunter services.

Recruitment of highly experienced executives and manages is becoming more challenging than ever before. Therefore, it is essential to successfully fill key positions not only quickly, but in line of the company’s requirements and it’s long-term development plan. 

What are the benefits of a Headhunter and an Executive Search agency to organizations in attracting specialists and executives? What do I need to prior engaging with a headhunter? 

The following guide Headhunter in Germany details all you need to know.

How does a Headhunter in Germany engage with potential managers?

The previously released market study Human Resources Consulting in Germany 2018/2019, conducted by the Federal Association of German Management Consultants, investigated how headhunters conduct their search when looking for matching executive profiles. 

The method of direct search is preferred in 56 percent of all search projects. In other words, the headhunter directly approaches potential candidates without using add campgaings or job boards to collect candidate profiles. This method of executive search accounts for the largest share followed by:

  • A combination of direct and internet search (without ad search) accounting for16 percent, and
  • Direct, ad, and database/internet search with 11 percent.

The survey interviewed over 5,000 HR consulting firms in Germany. 

The origins of Headhunter services

To go back to the industry’s beginnings, the term Headhunting was first being used by human resources agencies in the United States in the early 1950s. 

The term specifically referred to a way of recruiting executive staff. Today, it is also referred to in Germany as direct search or executive search. 

Headhunting was almost exclusively limited to top management positions until the 1990s. However, the increasing shortage of specialists and managers also created a market of direct search for highly skilled talents and workers. Today, this is referred to as Talent Recruitment.

What is Executive Search?

The term Executive Search is the search for the highest level of executives and managers (directors, vice presidents, presidents and C-level executives). According to the definition of the German Federal Association of Temporary Employment, recruiters, as a broker, bring together corporations and job-seeking candidates. 

In practice, the task profile of a recruiter is relatively similar to that of a headhunter. 

However, a distinction must be made that recruitment agencies do not directly recruit specialists and managers but focus on basic employees. 

A corporation engages a headhunter for the following requirements:

  • identify potential managers and executives for an open management position,
  • address them directly and convice them about the opportunity,
  • make an initial selection (also referred to as candidate short-list) and
  • present the best candidates to the client.

The final list of tasks of the headhunter or executive search company is detailed after a the preliminary project meeting. 

Headhunters in Germany need to deliver when looking for executives

Headhunters in Germany need to deliver when looking for executives | © Nic Mac Millan

In addition, sub-processes might also be carried out by the headhunter. The final decision for or against a candidate is, of course, in the hands of the client.

What are the benefits of engaging with a Headhunter in Germany?

Filling a position in a management role requires an extensive amount of experience. If a prospective candidate is not treated with the utmost care, she/he might now accept the offer and the company’s opportunity is lost. 

As HR departments might not meet the challenges when looking for executive staff, companys can benefit from engaging a Headhunter in Germany:

  • A Headhunter reduces the risk of a job being misfilled
  • Headhunters engage with a qualified pool of candidates that a company would otherwise not be able to access.
  • External headhunters can address topics within to the client’s management team that might have been difficult to communicate through the internal human resource department.
  • Excellent headhunters are experts in executive search and bring a solid understanding of the corporate culture in which the candidates have to fit in
  • The effort and costs for internal research and interviews are reduced
  • The lack of specialist know-how and lack of resources when searching for top executives and managers in-house are compensated.

What should I look for when choosing a headhunter in Germany?

The first question is whether you are opting for a small consulting institution or a rather larger consulting firm. 

While in a smaller company specialising in headhunting with a high degree of truth, personal service provision or exlusivity is an advantage for the client, for larger headhunter agencies the number of candidates in the database or in the data pool is an important plus.

Irrespective of the size of the advisory institution, the following general selection criteria should be taken into account, inter alia:

  • Number of references,
  • Timeliness of the references,
  • Industry and market knowledge
  • Professional experience and background (e.g. psychological training)
  • Specialist and methodological know-how (e.g. personal diagnostic procedures used)
  • Price structure and price level

Where to find a headhunter in Germany?

Headhunting is particularly popular in conurbations where there is great competition between companies. 

It is not surprising that headhunters in Munich, Hamburg, headhunters in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt or headhunters in Cologne and Stuttgart are sought and booked in particular in order to envelop TOP executives for companies in these cities.

Which industries use headhunting particularly popular?

Headhunters are now in use in many industries. The focus is more on the size of the company and the question of whether the use of a headhunter is profitable for the company. Nevertheless, HEadhunter prefers to be found in industries where highly qualified managers with a specific profile are sought. Such as.:

Talent shortage remains a key challenge within Germany’s IT industry

Talent shortage remains a key challenge within Germany’s IT industry | © Pankaj Patel

  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Logistics 
  • Marketing Executives
  • Pharma and Med-Tech
  • Legal Advisory
  • Upscale Gastronomy
  • Banking and Financial Services

Choosing a suitable headhunter in Germany

Choosing the right personnel service provider has a significant impact on:

  • the speed of filling the post,
  • the quality of the candidate as well as
  • the ability of candidates to adapt to the corporate culture.

How much do I have to invest in filling a position by direct search via headhunter in Germany?

 The valua of a good headhunter largely exceeds the initial cost

The value of a good headhunter largely exceeds the initial cost | © Steve Johnson

The following models of remuneration can be found on the market:

  • Fixed-price model (fixed fees),
  • Percentage model, 
  • individual pricing and
  • Success fees.

Fixed fees and percentage models are often practiced (usually around 25 to 30 percent of the candidate’s annual gross salary). 

The combination of both variants is also used in practice. For a €100,000 job, you can calculate with approx. 25,000 to 30,000 €. Part of the fee is usually due at the beginning, as a headhunter has significant additional burdens for travel, research and contact at the beginning of the order.

Is a Headhunter in Germany too expensive?

recruiting is never cheap, for good reason. See the costs in relation to the benefit, to the achieved result. Top employees don’t just do their jobs. They increase the attractiveness of an employer, attract more talent and help companies grow. Their performance increases the company’s value in the medium to long term. From this point of view, the cost of a headhunter is quickly recovered.

What exactly does  headhunter in Germany do?

In the best case, the portfolio of the personnel service provider covers the entire process from the creation of the requirements profile to the successful integration of a candidate at the client. Important steps and services that a headhunter should provide are still:

  • intensive research of companies and potential candidates,
  • Identification and addressing of potential candidates,
  • candidate selection (e.g. using appropriate selection procedures),
  • Presentation of candidates to the client and
  • Aftercare.

Universal Hires, Germany’s leading boutique Executive Search and Headhunting Firm


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Lisa Meier

Lisa Meier has more than ten years’ experience in providing strategic advice and legal guidance on international trade, administrative and legal matters to foreign companies, associations, and governments doing business in Germany. She advises companies in a broad range of industries on successfully navigating the German economic environment.

Lisa brings a wealth of knowledge to Universal Hires’ marketing and client success team. In her free time, Lisa spends time exploring the unique city-life of Berlin and all the diversity that the East of Germany have to offer.

About Universal Hires

Universal Hires is Germany’s leading staffing provider. With expertise in recruitment and employer of record services, the company levarges its market entry support.

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