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How to Work with a Search Firm: Questions to Ask Before Engaging Them

How to Work with a Search Firm: Questions to Ask Before Engaging Them

As retained executive search consultants, we understand that utilizing a search firm to find a key professional is a significant investment of your time and your organization’s money. That is why, in recent posts, we have been offering our insight on how to know if you’re ready to engage a search firm, how to identify firms to best assist you, and the differences between retained and contingency firms. In continuing with this educational series, we have come to the questions we recommend discussing with a potential firm prior to engaging them. By taking the time to discuss the firm's experience, its search process, and its capabilities, you can better perceive how well they will represent your organization, if you want to work with them, and how good the return on your investment could be. It will also provide you and the search consultant with an understanding of what to expect from one another.

A reputable firm and an experienced consultant will appreciate you asking questions upfront versus after a search commences and they will have questions about your organization, its challenges and opportunities, and the objectives of your specific talent need. From these initial discussions, you will come to understand the firm's and the consultant's abilities to provide comprehensive, focused, and strategic recruitment services.

Questions about the firm in general:

  • Do they specialize in your industry? A firm that specializes in your industry can offer knowledge and understanding of your sector, a strong network of pertinent contacts, and the ability to identify and attract key professionals.

Do they specialize in securing professionals in the role's function?

How well do they understand your organization's sector, its history, challenges, and opportunities?

Are they familiar with your organization and the markets it serves?

Do they currently represent organizations that are considered your competitors?

  • How long have they been in business?

  • Do they operate on a retained or contingency basis?

  • Do they have client and candidate references you can contact?

  • Do they have the ability to provide valuable insight of market conditions, candidate talent pool, and knowledge of how to expand search parameters to ensure the identification of all potentially qualified candidates, including those outside of your sector?

  • What are their policies regarding travel to meet with your organization and with prospective candidates?

  • Do they offer a guarantee and how is it defined?

  • Do they offer an off-limits policy? An off-limits policy prevents the search firm from recruiting people from your organization. Normally, the time period is two years following the engagement.

  • What are their standard fees?

Questions about their search process:

  • How will they perform various stages of the search process?

Client Orientation - How do they intend to learn about your organization, its culture, its long- and short-term goals, and its current initiatives? About the role's minimum and ideal qualifications, responsibilities, and objectives?

Search Parameters - How will they establish search parameters, and perform research and analysis of market conditions, industry and vertical market competition, and talent pool?

Candidate Identification - How will they source and identify candidates? What are their typical strategies and what resources will be utilized? An experienced firm will leverage their industry network, and be able to identify your direct and indirect competitors, and the pertinent professionals within those organizations.

Candidate Assessment - How will they represent your organization? How will they qualify candidates? What personal intangibles of candidates will be considered? A consultant's ability to recruit, assess, and attract talented professionals is fundamentally important and will determine the effectiveness and results of the entire search.

Candidate Presentation - Will they present candidates as they are identified or simultaneously? Will they submit resumes in a standard format or will they submit the actual resumes candidates developed? The firm should offer transparency on candidates such as: strengths, weaknesses, current compensation, career goals, and any personal issues that may affect placeability and performance.

Interviews - How will they manage the interview process? Will they perform the first round of interviews? Will they provide candidate feedback on interviews and within what time frame? Typically, the higher the position level, the more important it is for the firm to interview candidates first. Feedback should be given to you and the candidate within 48 hours of interviews.

References & Background Checks - Will they provide written professional references and conduct background and employment checks on final candidates prior to an offer being extended?

Evaluation, Selection & Extending an Offer - After candidates have been interviewed, will they compare each candidate's strengths and weaknesses with you? Will they provide assistance during compensation negotiations?

Follow Through - Do they continue to follow through with you after the secured individual begins employment and at what intervals? Do they also continue to follow through with the candidate to ensure their transition is going smoothly? A committed consultant will continue to follow through with you and the successful candidate for at least six months following the placement.

Finally, ask the firm for client and candidate references and call them.