Vivienne Packer of construction and property headhunter Alexander Hughes tells Nancy Cavill how to get noticed and what to do when you get the call.
Make yourself visible

This doesn't mean ringing search consultants and saying you're looking for a job. You need a profile in the industry. The higher your profile, the more likely you are to be headhunted. Speaking at conferences, writing articles or letters to trade publications and being quoted in the press are good ways of doing this.

Have a broad range of contacts

Headhunters will check out your credentials before they call. They will talk to people in the industry and, when a name comes up, discreetly enquire about that person's experience and reputation. The broader your range of contacts, the more likely it is that your name will crop up in conversation and that you will get the call.

Get the initial contact right

If you pick up the phone to a caller who introduces himself as a search consultant – they are more likely to say this than headhunter – stay calm. Don't say in a loud voice: "Hang on, I'll just shut the door." The headhunter will ask you if it's a good time to talk. If it isn't, you should arrange a time and place that suits you – this could be after office hours or at home at the weekend.

Expect your first conversation to be circumspect

Don't expect to be told straightaway which company the headhunter is working for. A headhunter may not even reveal what the job is until you've shown an interest and he or she has assessed your experience. You may get a line like: "I'm handling a search for a senior project director based in Cardiff." You won't get much more detail at this stage.

Expect the process to take a while

A headhunter will usually want at least two phone conversations with you before deciding whether to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Even then, you may have several meetings before your first interview with the employer.

Make sure conversations are confidential

A search consultant should not reveal your name to the employer until you agree to apply for the job. Be wary of faxing your CV until this has been agreed. Confidentiality works both ways, though. The client will expect the headhunter to keep the salary to a ball-park figure until it is ready to offer a job.

Be enthusiastic

Even if you are happy in your job, you should still take the opportunity to explore what's on offer. Ask questions and keep your tone of voice upbeat and interested.

Remember, it's a two-way process

A call from a headhunter may be flattering, but you will be only one in a field of candidates, so, if you're interested, sell yourself. That said, remember the headhunter called you. It's up to them to persuade you that you are the right candidate.

Be open

You will usually be asked what your salary is. Be honest. The headhunter will already have some idea of what it's likely to be and refusing to disclose it looks suspicious, as if you are covering up low earnings.

Keep in touch

Give the headhunter a private contact number – mobile phones are ideal. Make sure you are kept informed of your progress. Also, call the headhunter if you change your mind about the job. And, don't forget, it pays to keep in touch because the headhunter will be negotiating your salary and benefits package.

How to get headhunted

  • Build a broad range of contacts
  • Get quoted in the press What to do next
  • Be enthusiastic about the offer
  • Make sure discussions are confidential
  • Keep in contact
  • Be open about your salary
  • Let the headhunter do the courting
  • Think long and hard before making a move