to Select a Recruiting Firm
Create a Short List
you have the time and resources, build a short
list of search firms and individual recruiters
who should have the right background to work
successfully on your assignment. At this stage
your primary concern should be to target recruiters
who have recently filled similar positions
for comparable organizations Appropriate specialty
and functional experience is important. In
all likelihood your company has relationships
with a number of recruiters, some of whom
may be relevant for this search. Check with
colleagues in other departments or friendly
contacts at other organizations to get additional
recommendations. The number of names on a
good short list will depend on the assignment
in question, but we recommend that you work
with specialists that know your area well.
Everyone else will be a waste of time involving
their their telephone calls, paperwork and
process. The firm should be easy and simple
to work with. The last thing that you need
is for the firm to make the process harder
or more difficult; good firms should facilitate
the process and be an excellent behind the
scenes ally to get the job done.
Ask Recruiters Questions
you telephone recruiters, have a list of questions
ready and go through the list with each recruiter.
Your objective at this stage is to whittle
down your list to one firms that you will
most likely sign up with. If possible, it
is recommended that immediately after you
sign a recruitment agreement, that you meet
with face-to-face with the recruiter. At that
time, both you and the recruiter can get to
know each other better, nail down specifics
and details and the recommended approach.
long have you been a recruiter? What is your
training? What was your prior work experience?
How long has your firm been in business? Do
you operate locally, regionally, nationally
or internationally? What kind of track record
and background do you have in the area of
Does your firm specialize in a particular
area or function? What background do you have
in our area? What do you know about our company?
What kinds of searches have you worked on
recently? How have the placements worked out?
What is your process for working on a search?
What can I expect if we work together?
How can you insure that you will find the
best candidates for my position? What capabilities
and resources does your firm have for researching
Do you participate in any of the following:
creating the job description, checking references,
setting up interviews and negotiating compensation?
Who will be leading the search from the recruiting
What is your policy for recruiting candidates
from your current and recent clients? Among
organizations in our industry, which ones
would be "off-limits" for this assignment?
Is your firm a member of any professional
Is your firm a member of any networks of recruiters
that can help with the assignment?
What are your fees and what is your policy
What is your replacement guaranty?
3. Balance Industry Experience against
usually want to select a recruiter with experience
and contacts in their profession. Unfortunately,
if the best recruiter has worked recently
with two of your closest competitors, both
companies will probably be "off-limits"
for your immediate assignment, thereby limiting
the available field of candidates.
critical issue must be assessed carefully
on a case-by-case basis. If you view your
direct competitors as highly likely sources
to fill the position, do not work with a recruiter
who cannot touch those individuals. However,
it is usually an acceptable compromise to
use a recruiter who is intimately familiar
with your industry and has a few blocked competitors.
standard "off-limits" policy in
the recruiting industry has been that a search
firm will not approach an organization for
whom it has worked during the previous two
years. But be aware that there are considerable
variations from this norm, and the very ground
rules are in flux. Some recruiters specify
one year instead of two. This will mean they
have fewer organizations that are blocked
from you, but it will also mean your own future
protection against being raided is that much
shorter. Some search firms observe no off-limits
restrictions, and some clients do not require
"off-limits" problem has a second
dimension. When a retainer recruiter is working
on an assignment, he or she will typically
take possession of the search firm's files
on suitable candidates for the position. If
you then retain a second recruiter at the
same firm, this recruiter will not have access
to these files until the first recruiter returns
them to the firm's database. This policy is
designed to avoid outright competition for
candidates within a search firm. For large
firms that work on many assignments at once,
and for highly specialized firms, it can mean
that many of the best candidates are not available
to you. Ask about the number of searches that
will be going on simultaneously in your area.
Your recruiter will always try to gather the
best slate of candidates for you, but if the
files of the five best Cardiologists, the
top 10 Orthopedic Surgeons or the Top Ten
Psychiatrists are sitting on a fellow recruiter's
desk down the corridor, you are never going
to see them.
Evaluate Search Firm Presentations
only applies to if and when you decide to
meet the firm that you will be working with.
higher end assignments the more aggressive
search firms will often assemble thorough
briefings that include target executives -
a good reason not to skip this phase of the
process. Expect every firm to have smooth,
professional presentations. Your challenge
is not to focus on the quality of the sales
pitch but to assess the real expertise, cultural
fit and technical knowledge of each recruiter.
Is this someone that is knowledgeable and
knows his/her stuff inside and out? Do they
seem sensitive to the special characteristics
of your company? Are they savvy to any internal
politics? Do they have any unusual and creative
ideas for the position that needs to be filled?
How responsive are they to your own suggestions?
attention to what is not said. Are there organizations
that should be important hunting grounds for
your assignment where the recruiter appears
uncomfortable or changes the subject? Many
recruiters hope that clients do not ask directly
about companies that are "off-limits"
to them - a kind of "don't ask, don't
tell" policy. Your best strategy is to
ask about every company you want the recruiter
to consider. A good recruiter is able to "recruit
out" of almost anywhere to help you address
Clarify Who Will Do the Work
now you should have one or two front-runners.
Before you pick the winner, there is one more
trap to be avoided. Some recruiting firms
are blessed with tremendous "rain-makers"
- people who are skilled at winning assignments
from companies and who spend most of their
time doing just that. Charismatic, powerful,
entertaining - these rain-makers are experts
at attracting clients, but once the assignment
is sold they move on to the next opportunity,
leaving the actual search to other members
of the firm. Since an important part of your
choice should be your sense of rapport with
the recruiter you expect to work with, make
sure that this person will be closely involved
during the following months. How many other
assignments will they be handling? How do
they manage their workload? Will others be
involved? What will they be doing? Who should
you be calling day-to-day?
firms also differ in the extent to which they
use back-room research staffs. Some firms,
particularly the largest ones, employ almost
as many researchers as recruiting consultants.
Researchers do much of the front-end work
on an assignment, scouring through databases
to uncover candidates, and often making the
initial contact to gauge a candidate's interest.
This can be an effective way to speed up an
assignment, allowing your recruiter to focus
on evaluating candidates. The danger is that
the busy recruiter ends up relying too much
on the short-list of candidates presented
by a researcher. The best searches usually
involve a good blend of digging for resumes
(by researchers) and inspired networking (by
recruiters). Make sure the firm you work with
is not overly dependent on just one approach.
Make the Final Choice
final decision may well come down to the finalists'
track records, specialization and knowledge
and expertise. A few years ago, Korn/Ferry
Int'l. (the world's largest retainer firm)
commissioned a market research group to ask
companies which were the most important factors
to consider for senior-level searches. The
ten factors, from most to least important
Firm's track record
2. Firm's ability to understand client needs
3. Quality of the individual doing the search
4 Knowledge of the client's industry
5. Ability to find the right candidates
6. Firm's reputation
7. Firm is easy to work with
8. Firm completes searches in the stated time
9. Firm's integrity and ethics
Fortune 500 company's head of HR reported
a different perspective. They pick retainer
search firms based on these seven factors:
The search firm must have completed searches
at comparable salary levels in the last three
years for one of their divisions or a "highly
reliable" reference in other Fortune
2. The search firm must not offer outplacement
or career counseling to executives, but it
can occasionally operate on a contingency
3. Maximum fees are 33.3%. They try for 30%
and they negotiate on whether or not the executive's
bonus is included in the calculation of fees.
4. Expenses are reimbursed only for mail,
long distance phone and pre-approved travel.
5. There should be a two-year off-limits policy,
preferably applying to their entire company,
though this policy is flexible for a middle
manager divisional position.
6. Off-limits situations at other companies
must be identified at the outset.
7. If the new executive resigns or is terminated
for performance-related reasons within 12
months, the search firm should work without
charge to find a replacement.
final client perspective is offered by John
P. Finnerty of National Westminster Bank:
"The real test of any search firm is
not only how well they know their own business
but how well they know ours."
addition to this six-step process, we have
found a few issues crop up repeatedly. The
following section discusses these frequently
it Important for the Search Firm to Have a
most cases, no. It is far more important that
you find a recruiter who will bring you the
best candidates than one who happens to be
based nearby. This is particularly true when
the assignment in question will involve looking
for candidates nationwide (or worldwide).
Many effective searches are completed by recruiters
operating out of different cities than their
clients. Frequent telephone contact and occasional
meetings can work well.
largest recruiting firms do maintain offices
in major cities around the world. This can
be an advantage if they can bring local knowledge
to bear in finding good candidates. These
candidates can then be interviewed in person
by the local office before going to the expense
of flying them to see the lead recruiter and
an assignment demands a local candidate be
hired, it does then make sense to use a hometown
recruiter. Local presence can also be thought
of as a tie-breaker between otherwise comparable
Important Are Professional Associations?
search firms may be members of various professional
bodies. If they specialize in particular areas
or functions, firms will often participate
in the relevant association. Although simple
membership may be no guarantee of expertise
- since entry requirements and standards vary
- it can be a useful clue when choosing among
recruiting firms have their own New York-based
professional association, called the Association
of Executive Search Consultants. The AESC
was founded in 1959 and now has over 100 member
firms, including most of the largest in the
business. Membership in the AESC is indicated
in the listings. For a client, AESC membership
is perhaps less important than whether a firm
adheres to the professional standards set
down in the association's Code of Ethics.
This code is intended to assure clients of
a confidential relationship with their recruiter,
as with a banker, lawyer or accountant.
individual recruiters are members of the International
Association of Corporate and Professional
Recruitment (IACPR). This association maintains
entry requirements, and members must pledge
to honor the group's ethical code. IACPR membership
is also indicated in the listings.