13 Rules for Getting the Most Out of Your Executive Search Firm

Top candidates often have the upper hand in today's job market. Recruiters and their clients, therefore, must be in tune with one another to land the best prospects. TalentRISE offers 13 rules for getting the most out of your executive search firm.

June 15, 2017 – In many organizations, recruitment for top echelon positions is time-consuming, expensive and often even contentious when decision-makers aren’t on the same page. For most businesses, retained search firms offer the best answer to filling senior level positions. The retainer-based model commits the search firm to focus their resources in a proactive, systematic search to find the right person for a particular job.

Chicago-based executive search firm TalentRISE recently released a report offering 13 rules for hitting the sweet spot in your C-suite search. The firm noted that many businesses establish in-house executive search capabilities, often achieving impressive results. But TalentRISE said it has seen what can only be described as disasters when high-level searches are conducted in-house. Especially if there is no clear strategy, expectations are unrealistic, confidentiality is critical and/or accountabilities / responsibilities are inadequately delineated.

When selecting an external search firm, there are numerous ways to get the most value from the relationship and ensure that results are optimal. Here are TalentRISE’s 13 ground rules to get the most out of your executive search partner:

1. The Job Description

Before commissioning a search, make sure that all those involved in the hiring process, including the selection committee if one has been established, have approved the job description, reporting structure, qualifications, desired candidate credentials, total rewards, benefits, relocation package, and so forth. Doing so upfront will alleviate headaches later in the process and will serve as a guide for the executive search firm. A good recruiter will use these materials to craft what essentially is a marketing brochure for that job.

2. The Kick Off Meeting

Prior to embarking on a search, any first-rate-firm will conduct a formal “intake” meeting to gain deep knowledge about your needs and the type of person you are looking for. They will want to learn, for example, which candidate requirements are “musts” versus “nice-to-haves” and gather insights into not only your corporate culture but also the situational job challenges the candidate can expect to encounter. The accumulated insights are part of the consultative approach mentioned above that helps the search team plot the best course to find the best individual possible.

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3. Setting Hiring Manager Accountabilities and Expectations

Expectation-setting needs be a two-way street. On one hand, it’s a given that the search firm will set parameters around deliverables, including time expected to fill the job and other common metrics. But, at the early stages of the process, hiring managers also need to be briefed on what’s expected of them. For instance, hiring managers need to allocate sufficient time to the hiring process; expecting to spend at least 40–50 hours hiring a director-level executive. Additionally, together with the search firm, you should ask hiring managers to: Provide clear input into the job requirements and ideal candidate sourcing, screening and selection criteria at the start of the recruiting process; be engaged throughout the qualified candidate review, interview and hire decision process as well as drive it forward to close in a timely manner; proactively keep the recruiting team informed throughout the hiring process with specific feedback on what they like, or don’t like, in candidates they interview and reject or hire.

4. Setting Search Firm Metrics

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are, in TalentRISE’s view, more valuable than the standard metrics used in recruitment. While important, those traditional measurements focus on data after-the-fact. Within the hiring manager/recruiter relationship, SLAs serve as a contract between the service provider, you and the hiring manager. They define the level of service expected from the search professional as well as the actions the hiring manager needs to take to ensure success. The best SLAs for this process are output-based, just as they are for any organization’s external customers, as their aim is specifically to define what the hiring manager will receive and what he/she needs to do and/or provide.

5. Mapping the Sourcing Strategy

Expect the search firm’s team to outline its approach to finding candidates prior to starting any individual search. The best firms will conduct searches using long-mastered, competitive intelligence and direct sourcing methodologies to identify both passive and active talent through the web, social media and professional networks and will be transparent in sharing the accumulated data with you. Along the way, any information your business can provide to help, for instance, identify up-and-coming competitors who may yield passive candidates, is useful. This is also the time to indicate which companies’ talent is off-limits for poaching and to discuss the best way to source from diverse talent pools.

6. Embracing Non-Traditional Approaches

Technology has turned the recruiting world upside down, and any reputable search firm will bring an array of tools to the task of hiring your senior level executives. Be sure you are taking advantage of all the latest innovations the firm has to offer. Beyond technology, look to your search provider to offer creative approaches to sourcing, particularly in outreach to passive candidates and/or individuals in high demand today, such as innovators and “disruptors”. If you are looking for candidates who can provide fresh and innovative ideas, you need to change how you recruit and retain these people and that’s where an external firm can break the mold and offer new ideas.

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7. Articulating the Employer Brand

As the supply of talent in many industries dwindles, organizations are giving their employer brand far more attention than in the past. That is a good thing as your ability to recruit depends—to such a great extent—on your employment brand. When partnering with an executive recruitment firm, that team can and should help you present your organization accurately, consistently and honestly. This means sharing meaningful and interesting content about your organization to potential candidates. It also means that everyone involved in the recruitment process must commit to never over-promise future promotions, pay, opportunities, etc. Not only will it hurt retention of new hires but it will erode your employer brand.

8. Enhancing the Candidate Experience

When a candidate applies the brakes during the recruitment process, it’s most often because he/she has experienced something unsettling, such as inconsistencies in how the job is described by future bosses and peers. At other times, it’s because the candidate has been brought back for multiple repetitive interviews that give him or her second thoughts about the business’ commitment. That’s when working with a search firm can prove invaluable to ensure that the process is smooth, communications are timely and clear, potential misunderstandings receive immediate clarification, feedback flows both ways and that candidates are treated in a way that enhances, not detracts, from your employer brand.

9. Conducting Interviews

Almost every survey about why people leave jobs points to their relationships with their immediate superiors and the teams that they work with. That relationship starts with the first interview so it’s important to understand that while you and your hiring manger are evaluating candidates, the candidates are also evaluating you. While common sense dictates avoiding illegal or ill-advised questions, practicing good manners and being prepared, your search firm partner ought to make the interview process as painless and effective as possible by sharing, for example, interview questions specific to your needs as well as checklists and assessment tools to compare and contrast the skills and cultural fit of multiple frontrunners.

10. The Selection Process

As the candidate funnel narrows down to the last five or three individuals, put your search professional’s expertise to use by asking for professional insights regarding the candidates. Oftentimes, from working with hundreds of candidates within your industry, they will have unique insights on why one stands head and shoulders above another. The search firm can also facilitate discussions about trade-offs, such as when a great candidate has fewer years of experience than desired but possesses sterling credentials. At this stage, an impartial viewpoint can be of immense help in the decision-making process.

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11. Assessments / Background Checks

Tap into the wide experience executive search firms have in professional assessments, including psychometric and IQ/ EQ tests, as well as background checks, academic record, income verifications and reference checks, although it is also recommended that hiring managers personally check on references.

12. Making the Offer / Negotiations

When all is said and done, salary and benefits are generally the prime motivator for any single individual deciding whether to make a job change. In fact, a recent survey finds that 28 percent of employed active candidates expect a salary increase of at least 15 percent to accept a new job, and that jumps to 32 percent for employed passive candidates. There is a disconnect, however, as many hiring managers still think they are in the buyer’s seat when negotiating compensation with a currently employed, top-performing job candidate. So turn to a search firm that provides impartial, data-based “reality checks” with very specific information on market compensation, rewards and benefits. Selling the concept of paying at, or above, market rate for top talent can be difficult, but the expense of not filling a key role with a top performer can cost more in the long run—in terms of turnover, lost productivity and repeat recruiting costs.

13. On-Boarding

Businesses are often obsessed with managing external risks. Yet, one of the biggest potential risks lies within, when key executives depart, particularly during the critical first few months in a new role. That’s why many search firms are such strong advocates of formal on-boarding programs. This shortens “startup” times for new executives, increases learning and accelerates action while improving productivity. But most of all, new leader assimilation is designed to protect your investment.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Chase Barbe, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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