Much depends on the proverbial “low-hanging fruit”—Candidates the search firm has already qualified, and in many cases interviewed, who are available, affordable, and appropriate to your position. Frequently this means Candidates ready to interview within a few days. Once this first wave has been processed, however, it may be another three or four weeks before additional Candidates have been qualified and are ready to be seen.
Do you interview all Candidates face-to-face or by videoconference, or is qualifying of Candidates done by telephone only?
In the best of all possible worlds, interviewing of Candidates by a search firm should be face-to-face. Only in the presence of Candidates can one fully evaluate the individual’s non-resume qualifications—forcefulness, presence, demeanor, warmth, and so forth. Next best is videoconferencing (an imperfect technology), which offers some of the advantages of face-to-interviewing without the time and cost of bringing Candidate and recruiter together physically.
In reality, there are times when both you and the recruiter are sufficiently sold on a Candidate that the advantages of face-to-face or videoconference interviewing must be weighed against the time lost in setting up and conducting such an interview. This is especially true in a tight hiring environment, where Candidates may be off the market in days.
Ultimately the decision of how much screening you expect from your recruiter is yours. Your confidence in the recruiter is one factor. Time, cost, and level of position are others. What is important to determine is that your recruiter is willing and able to conduct face-to-face and/or videoconference interviews if you request.
How will these Candidates be presented to us?
You have two choices:
Candidates can be presented in “short list” form—three or more Candidates whom you and the search firm agree are qualified. This approach allows you to interview all Candidates within a brief period, compare them, and select the one you feel can do the best job. The disadvantage to this approach is that Candidates recruited early in the process are being kept on hold until the short list is completed. The risk is losing Candidates with short shelf-lives.
Candidates can be presented linearly, as they are qualified and ready to interview. This approach can lead to a faster hire…if you find the right person quickly. It also reduces the risk of losing a highly qualified Candidate who is interviewing elsewhere. The disadvantage is that you don’t have the benefit of comparing Candidates in close sequence.
Regardless of how Candidates are introduced, most companies should expect on a retained search the following when a Candidate is introduced: a resume, a completed job questionnaire or other document completed by the Candidate that addresses his or her specific qualifications for your position, and an evaluation of the Candidate’s qualifications created by the search firm. The latter may include references, interview reports, videotapes, personality profiles and key issues to address during interviewing.
Will you be giving us weekly reports on your progress?
You should require this, whether weekly or bi-weekly on a verbal basis. Remember, the more you expect administratively from your recruiter means the less time that is focused on the actual search.
Will the Candidates you send to us also be sent to other Clients with whom you are working?
Not if you have (1) retained the search firm and (2) been assured by them that you have the right of first refusal on all Candidates recruited by them for your search. Gray areas involve the length of Candidate exclusivity and exclusivity when Candidates come from the firm’s existing database or have already been presented by the firm on another search. (Many retained firms do limited contingency search as well, usually for good Clients or when speed is of the essence.) If you are working with a contingency firm or firms, you should not expect any level of Candidate exclusivity. Several of the larger retained search firms ask their Candidates to pay the search firm to represent them.
Several of the larger retained search firms ask their Candidates to pay the search firm to represent them. Does this firm expect this from their Candidates?
You have to ask the question; Am I getting the best Candidate or the one that has paid the firm to represent them?
Who actually makes the offer to Candidates—you or your Clients?
Your call…but most good search firms prefer to extend offers themselves. One reason is that it distances the Client from the negotiation process…and any unpleasantness that develops during the “end game.” Another reason is that search firms are in the business of closing deals and can anticipate snags in the process. Regardless of who makes the offer, it should be pro forma if the search firm has done its job and communicated effectively to both Client and Candidate. There should be no surprises.
What other value (beyond “headhunting”) can you add to the search process if we give you this assignment, e.g., compensation consulting or personality profiling?
Good search firms look for ways to add value to their Client relationships. Compensation and personality assessment are two areas; advice on position titles, organizational structures, and interviewing techniques are others. Some industry-specific firms are able to go beyond adding value to the hiring process to offer suggestions for potential partnerships, products, sources of capital, and even acquisitions. After all, who else works with as many companies within your industry as a national search firm who specializes in your industry?
How do you charge?
What you pay any recruiter—retainer or contingency—should be based on a simple formula: competence x commitment. By competence we mean a combination of industry knowledge and recruiting skills that translate into an ability to fill a position capably and quickly. By commitment we mean a willingness to dedicate sufficient time, the resources to do so and probably the most important factor is; are they truly professional recruiters (Certified Personnel Consultants). In essence, the more knowledgeable, experienced, talented, and dedicated the recruiter (or firm), the more you should be willing to pay.
Fees you will hear typically range from 20 percent to 40 percent of either base salary only or of total estimated first-year compensation (salary and other cash, including bonuses). For a so called “retained” firm that does nothing but submit resumes based on loose job specifications, 20 percent may be generous. Sourcing is the easy part of recruiting, especially with so many resumes of unemployed Candidates available through Internet resume banks. Random and accidental discoveries should be treated accordingly.
For a firm that can answer to your satisfaction the questions above, paying a fee as high as 33 1/3 percent of total estimated first-year compensation ($60,000 for a $180,000 position) may be entirely justified. But you should expect in return an intense, professional, and full-scale search, with the majority of Candidates falling into the “passive,” or “not-looking,” category, by an experienced search professional who knows your industry inside and out.
Because such Candidates are well-treated and well-paid, non-lookers are content in their jobs and, unless their company is in serious trouble, are generally not looking for new opportunities at another firm. In short, this means that employed non-lookers must be convinced to look at your opportunity. This takes time and the expertise of a skilled recruiter.
Brian Wright is the owner and managing Partner of Executive Leadership Solutions, a contingency search firm, as well as the owner and chief placement officer of Coleman Haley & Wright, a retained search firm. A veteran of the petroleum and convenience-store industry, Brian can be contacted at (800) 485-9726, ext. 200 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.