5 Tips on How to Choose an Executive Recruiter

All executive recruitment firms are not created equal. It’s not even the fee structure we’re talking about. Choosing the right resource to fill a critical, full-time role can be challenging and confusing. While recruiters are typically eager to find candidates, how they work to truly understand your business separates the wheat from the chaff. What does that look like? Good rapport, absolutely. But there’s more. From our 35 years in the business, bringing rigor to the entire recruiting process is key to making placements that last.

We’ve gathered some important questions to consider when selecting an executive recruitment firm:

1. Are they asking for my commitment?

A search firm who wants your business will undoubtedly make a commitment to fill your open position. But the elite will also ask for a commitment from you. To fill a crucial role with a top performer means the search professional needs to deeply understand your business dynamics, explore your culture and identify unique needs, even discover new ones. A senior recruiter who requests, actually requires, your team’s time to listen, learn and ask in-depth questions is both demonstrating their promise and their process. Don’t let the recruiter off the hook if you hear them use “partner” in their marketing speak – ask them to prove it.

2. Do they set clear expectations?

Whether it’s communication style and frequency, compensation flexibility, interview scheduling, response time or references, misaligned expectations will doom the engagement before it even starts. Understanding in detail about how to work together is critical to expeditiously finding and hiring the right talent. If you want the recruiter to find the best candidates because filling an open role is a priority, then you’ll want to hear their game plan and how you play a defining role in achieving their success and yours.

3. What’s their idea of saving me time?

Time is relative. Promising to forward a ton of resumes doesn’t add value to the process or demonstrate real consideration of your time. When recruiters try to impress you with their access to talent based on the sheer number of resumes sent out, please take pause. It’s likely the recruiter will not expend the effort or have the expertise to evaluate and curate highly qualified candidates. Plus, you won’t get the insight you crave for making a clear go/no-go decision to put valuable time on your calendar for interviews and follow-up.

4. Can they attract and evaluate the right talent for us?

Past performance is indicative of future success here. Clients who trust their recruiter to deliver return time and again to build out their teams. Candidates regularly refer their friends and even become clients. Find out if the recruiting firm’s name means something in their niche. What does their network look like? A search firm’s track record is not just a number. Their performance and ability to attract top talent are tied to the enduring client and candidate relationships they’ve nurtured. Request references. Understand their methodology for evaluating candidates. The recruiting firm’s close rate? That is, it’s “send out to hire” ratio. It will be most revealing.

5. Should I use a national chain or a local boutique?

Let’s say you need 25 people in regional offices across the country, and you’re not interested in paying relocation fees. Hiring a national recruiting chain could streamline finding candidates for all the locations. Or, you could hire a local recruiter in each of the 25 markets. When the challenge at hand is narrow and specific, the advantage of using a local/regional executive search firm for a permanent position can easily tip the scales. As a recruiter living and breathing in a local market, you get a pro on the pulse of everything: from the cost of living, real estate, and compensation trends and local politics to the school systems, sports teams, and foodie and cultural scenes. Even more importantly, is the understanding of local business and employee competition from which to draw upon. Take advantage whenever you can.

What was the best question you asked before hiring a search firm?

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