If your own company's future is as uncertain as Wachovia's, it's probably time to hook up with a few professional recruiters and go looking for work while you're still a hot (read: employed) property. The first thing you should know about tech headhunters is they're not tech people. The second thing you should know is that they're effective. The third is that #1 + #2 = #3: You'll hate them.Headhunters are paid a commission to find and lure experienced people into jobs they will probably do well at. Typically the contract is about 20 percent of a year of your new-job salary. But there's a penalty if you take the job, then leave before so many months. Their job is to identify someone better than what's in the stack of resumes, and sell that person on the job during the employer's screening and interview process. Culturally, headhunters are sales people, polar opposites to the techies they recruit. They'll feed your skills and qualifications into a process that's as opaque to you as XML is to them. But here's the surprise: It works. There are lamebrain headhunters, just as there are PHP-whackers who call themselves gurus. As a jobhunter, do unto recruiters as they do unto you:

  • DO qualify your leads. Ask recruiters for references from people they've placed. Find out if those people feel they're in the right job at the right pay.
  • DON'T grill a headhunter on tech. The nitty-gritty details are for you and the employer to discuss, once you've been flagged as a possible fit.
  • DO say no to jobs that are obviously beneath you. The headhunter may be desperate to fill slots, or just plain clueless about your experience.

A good headhunter will sell you up, not down. She'll make you fume by suggesting jobs that are beyond your resume — but that you can get. She'll land you a salary you didn't have the huevos to ask for. Why are you unable to do this yourself? Because you've been trained not to overestimate capacity. Good headhunters are relationship-savvy, not tech-savvy. They've got their own algorithms for matching employers with employees. Work it with a headhunter who'll place you as a star hire, not just another C# coder. It'll be worth the migraine.