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10 Questions to Ask Before Signing with a Search Firm

Distinguish the professionals from the drive by firms

Finance folks using recruiters, I bet you ask questions before signing to work with a search firm, am I right??

Typical questions asked are:

What is your fee?
What are your specialties?
How did you know we’re hiring?
What’s your guarantee?

Or…there are NO questions.

Why is that?

Because, sadly, most recruiting firms are viewed as selling a commodity service, with no distinguishing characteristics other than fee and guarantee.

And most work non-exclusive, contingency searches, where the client sees little risk in adding another firm to the roster of 6 already working the search.

But the risk in this scenario is sky high. Because this approach, which is based on QUANTITY rather than QUALITY, often leads to a costly, time-consuming mis-hire that blows back on the hiring manager and his/her career.

I’ve just put together a list of 10 questions to ask a search firm before signing with them. It will help separate the real professionals from the drive-by firms. Here’s the list:

  1. Can you share with me some data on your metrics, such as % of searches filled for contingency and engaged/retained (industry average fill rates are 10% to 18% for non-exclusive contingency, 40% to 50% for exclusive contingency, and 85% to 95% for Engaged or Retained), # of interviews to placements, and stick rate of placed candidates still with clients at 1 year and 2 years?
  2. Can you describe your process in detail with regard to how you will go to market with our opportunity, an estimate of how many people you will contact, how many will you actually speak with, how you will screen them, and how you will manage them through the interview and offer process?
  3. Where and how do you find candidates? (Here you are looking for a comprehensive list of methods and sources beyond simple database searching and job board candidates. Also, how many ways and how many tries do they use to get candidates into live conversations?)
  4. How specifically will you position and sell the opportunity to engage candidate interest?
  5. How will you present candidates? (you are looking here for whether or not they are simply sending over the resume with a couple of bullets worth of information, or some kind of formal presentation package that will provide you with a wealth of information NOT on the resume and show how the person matches up against your core requirements.)
  6. Can you share some metrics and intel on the target market for this role, such as an estimate of the number of possible candidates in the target geography? (the right firm should be able to discuss this kind of info because they are constantly mapping their market AND/OR they have done at least preliminary diligence before a discovery call.)
  7. Do you have an off-limits list and who is on it? (any ethical search firm will be able to provide a list of current or recent clients from whom they can’t recruit, and the larger the firm, the larger the list)
  8. What are your service and pricing options and what comes with each? (Too many firms offer Contingency, Engaged, and Retained, but offer little to distinguish one from another OR if you choose Contingency, and have other firms working on it, they give you their lowest level of service and attention – what I call the “drive by,” but don’t tell you this up front.)
  9. Can you share a couple of examples of successful searches you’ve completed (or case studies if they have them)?
  10. Do you have 2 or 3 references, including clients and candidates AND/OR testimonials (such as these)?