Toronto Executive Search & Marketing Recruiter Bruce Powell
By Bruce Powell, Founder & Executive Recruiter

So you’ve got an opening on your team and it’s a critical role (but which roles aren’t critical, right?)   You’ve spent the past 6 months working 16 hour days trying to do 2 jobs.  Family time has shrunk, personal time is gone, and that ‘57 Fender Stratocaster you bought hasn’t been played in a year.

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For you it’s a ‘no brainer’.  You dial the number of your trusted headhunter and engage her or him in your quest.  Things start off well, but after week 8 you’re still doing the work of two and haven’t met the right candidates.  You might be asking yourself, “How do I get rid of my headhunter?”  Here are 3 tips to reduce sunk costs and fire your headhunter the right way.

1. Be Proactive.

Your first line of defense is to not have to fire your headhunter at all, and the way to do that is to get on the same page from day one.  Choose a headhunter that is specialized in your industry and knows your business inside and out.  A good headhunter will help mitigate potential problems by working with you to create an in-depth opportunity profile.  If they don’t, here is what you should ask:
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  • How many people have you placed in similar roles in the last 3/6/12 months?
  • What do you believe are the three most important aspects of this role as you take it to market?
  • What do you need to know about my company / department to help you identify the right fit?
  • What assessment techniques do you use to identify top talent?
  • When can I expect a short-list of candidates?


2. Own the Process.

Don’t wait until week 5 to express your concerns.  Instead, be as transparent as possible about where your expectations aren’t being met along the way.  Make sure that your headhunter is asking the right questions that address the details of the role and your needs as a manager and leader.

Great headhunters aren’t great because they can read your mind, they are great because they know the market and are excellent partners and advisers.  So what is it about candidate X that isn’t cutting it?  A good headhunter will be very receptive to your feedback, and adjust accordingly.

3. If it’s Still Not Working, Make a Move.

Sometimes a search just isn’t working out.  Sometimes you’ve got the wrong headhunter who isn’t delivering or doesn’t understand your business.  It’s time to cut your losses.

Last year my colleague, Bruce Powell, wrote a blog post aimed at candidates on How To Turn Down A Recruiter: 5 Ways To Say ‘No’ & ProfitThe gist of the post is that it’s a small world, and you may need each other in the future.  The same principles apply here.

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  • Dodge their phone calls or emails.
  • Be dishonest with respect to the reasons you need to move on.
  • Get pushed around. If you’ve done your part and your headhunter is truly a dud, they deserve to be fired, end of discussion.



  • Protect your brand by being upfront and honest.
  • Use this example as an opportunity to fine tune your recruitment outsourcing procedure.
  • Request all gathered intelligence from that search.


So, if you find yourself asking, “How do I get rid of my headhunter?” first try to salvage the search by providing specific, timely feedback.  If they aren’t receptive, unfortunately you’ve got a dud — fire them the right way by being assertive and unapologetic.  On the bright side, if you have partnered with the right headhunter and kept lines of communication open, you won’t be in the position of having to fire them… not to mention facing sunk time costs and starting from scratch!


For more posts like this one, check out our Dealing with a Headhunter blog category.

IQ PARTNERS is an Executive Search & Recruitment firm with offices in Toronto and Vancouver. We help companies hire better, hire less & retain more. We have teams of specialist recruiters in Financial Services & Insurance, Marketing Communications & Media, Emerging Tech & Telecom, Consumer Goods & Retail, B2B & Industrial, Technology, Accounting & Finance, HR & Operations, Mining & Engineering, Life Sciences, and Construction, Property & Real Estate. IQ PARTNERS has its head office in Toronto and operates internationally via Aravati Global Search Network. Click here to view current job openings and to register with us.

Bruce Powell Executive Search

Bruce Powell

Bruce co-founded IQ PARTNERS in 2001 and currently operates as Managing Partner. His personal background includes hands-on management experience in sales, marketing and marketing services. He has built management teams for a wide variety of marketing, communications, media and technology companies. He has also participated in several M&A transactions for service-based companies and is frequently called upon as a resource in the planning and negotiation of such deals.

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