What is the most important skill of a headhunter?

I recently had a call from an international potential client who was shopping around for the right external partner to help her with the recruitment of several business development profiles.

Her question was:

What do you feel is the single most important skill of a headhunter today?

That wasn’t really a very tough question. While 10, 15 years ago I would probably have said the identification (or ‘sourcing’ with a fancy HR word) of potential candidates, today this is no longer an issue. With Linkedin and all other sorts of social networks, finding the right candidates is easier than ever for any recruiter worth his salt. However, getting the right candidate to give you the time of day and seriously taking into consideration your opportunity on your say so, is another matter altogether.

That’s where building relationships comes into play. A real headhunter is not a cowboy hopping from client to client and candidate to candidate without any integrity. He (or she) knows his clients strong suit and weak points, and presents both honestly to his candidate, in order to help him make an informed decision. He will also inform his client of the good and bad on his candidate’s side so no false expectations are created. This type of open communication may feel somewhat awkward at first, but helps build trust between all parties, creating the type of relationship where a candidate will take your call when you have an opportunity to present. After all, he knows you wouldn’t be calling unless it is a potential fit.