Five questions you should ask before retaining an Executive Search firm

It might seem strange that someone who runs an Executive Search firm would be writing this post, but in the hope to better educating those who could be future clients I thought it would be good to give others a few guidelines that I would use if I were interviewing me.  I spent the first 25 years of my career engaging staffing, recruiting and search firms, so I have a little experience on both sides of the fence.

The other reason for this post is to share the fact that our firm cannot serve every client.  I suspect some in the talent acquisition business might feel they are all things to all firms, but I differ greatly in that belief.  We certainly have a broad reach in a variety of industries, but there are many industries where I have little or no competence and it would be foolish for me and for a potential client to retain our firm for certain types of work.

When you set out to engage a search firm, here are the questions I suggest you would ask:

  1. What expertise and experience do you have in our industry?  Knowing how your search partner is tied to an industry is an important thing.  The best search firms are very engaged in their markets and they do more than just pull people out from firm A and put them in firm B.  A good search partner is also giving back to the industry in a variety of ways
  2. How does your firm define success or measure results?  Understanding how your search partner defines success will help you determine their foundational principles.  Just remember, what get’s measured, matters.  Time to fill and success rate are also important factors as well as knowing how the firm handles things when they go sideways.  Anyone can run a search that has no challenges.  Ask the potential partner about a challenging search where things did not go well.  That should tell you much about how the firm handles adversity.
  3. Who will be involved in the search?  Some of the biggest name firms might have some of the most junior staff involved in your search.  Big name firms have a lot of cache’, but the real proof in the pudding is knowing who runs the day to day process in your search process.  Don’t let your firm be the “guinea pig” for new staff training for a firm.
  4. How does your firm communicate with non-finalists?  Most firms treat finalists well, but I think it says a lot about a firm when you know how they treat those who are removed from consideration.  Communicating with every contact to let them know their status is a “high touch” and personal way of letting candidates know they are valued even though they are not the final group to see a client.  I have seen many instances where a non-finalist in search A becomes a finalist in search B.  They will not be interested in B if you didn’t treat them well in A.
  5. How does your firm stay in touch with your industries?  Having a firm that only reaches out to their candidates or industries when they need something may be troubling.  A firm that is firmly entrenched and ingrained in their industries stands a better chance of getting good response and business intelligence when they go to market to fill a role.  You want a business partner who knows your industry, not just someone who is looking for their next placement fee.

There are a few others I could add, but I will stop with these five for today.

If you are in need of an executive search firm to help with a talent acquisition need you should consider these questions with each firm you choose to employ.

You will be glad you did.