There are a number of reasons a company decides to incorporate an external recruiter in their hiring process.  Sometimes a role has remained open for an extended period of time, yielding few quality leads. In other cases, the applicants do not reflect the type of talent the company is looking for – hinting at a problem with the job description. Companies may also hire an executive search firm when trying to source for a newly created role and the hiring manager has limited experience in this sector.

Bringing on an external recruiting firm to assist in your hiring can be the solution to all those problems and more… If you partner with the right external recruiting firm.

The process you use to hire an executive search firm is much the same as the process you use to hire new talent. Experience, skills, and “fit” are the key components in both. Just as you interview candidates, you too should interview the search firms you are considering partnering with. Here are several key questions you need to ask before you sign a contract with an external recruiting firm.

1. How long has your firm been in business? You do not want to invest your resources into a firm that only recently opened its doors. An experienced search firm will bring with it a satisfied and repeat client base who will affirm or deny a firm’s reputation. Ask for testimonials. Also, firms that have been in business for at least three to five years have likely encountered more than one economic cycle. The fact that they are still in business gives them credibility

2. What is your retention/success rate? Bringing on an executive search firm is one of your strongest against hiring the wrong person for the job. A recruiting firm’s retention rate shows their track record for avoiding those costly “wrong hires.” Of course, there are times when a quick turnover is outside a recruiter’s hands. Undisclosed expectations, a poor working environment, or a lack of a strong onboarding program can quickly drive a new hire out the door. Ideally, an experienced recruiter has addressed these potential pitfalls before they agreed to work with the client, ensuring the placement of a strong candidate who is satisfied and committed to his or her new role.

3. What is your average fill time? If you are enlisting the help of a search firm, more than likely you have already invested a significant amount of time trying to fill a role. Therefore, a three to six- month fill process continues to leave you with an open role you need filled NOW. Ask your potential recruiter how long it typically takes to fill a role like yours in an industry such as yours.

4. Have you filled roles like ours in an industry like ours? In order to have your pick of the best candidates for the job, you need a recruiter with a successful history of finding and placing candidates with the experience you are looking for, within your sector. Those successful placements not only reflect a reliable track record but show the firm has established networks and will likely be a more effective recruiting partner than a more general hiring manager you may have on staff.

5. What is your sourcing process? When you invest your resources in an outside search firm, you are expecting higher caliber candidates than you have been able to find thus far. If a recruiter simply tells you they use LinkedIn to find professionals that meet your criteria, they are hardly doing anything you couldn’t do yourself. However, if they have used LinkedIn to generate a database of top-notch, passive candidates you never knew were out there, you’re already getting your money’s worth. Do not be afraid to ask them about their screening and interviewing process. After all, you are expecting a high-quality shortlist of candidates.

6. What do I get for my money? Be direct with questions about the external recruiter’s role versus your internal recruiter’s role. What do they do beyond sourcing? Do they screen and interview potential candidates? How many candidates will they present? Do they conduct background and reference checks? A good search firm should be confident in the placements they make and provide some form of guarantee to replace unsuccessful placements within a certain period of time for free or with a reduced fee.

7. What type of communication will we have? It’s imperative that you set the parameters for your expectations and their services upfront. As a client, there is nothing worse than a recruiter who has gone radio silent for weeks on end. However, it is equally frustrating for a recruiter to find emails or voicemails waiting for them on a daily basis. If a search firm enlists a team of recruiters to work on your contract, be sure to acquire the names of each person who will be involved. In addition, ask how the entire team will stay up to speed with the progress. You don’t want to call someone on the team only to discover they have no idea what stage the search is in.

Remember, vetting and hiring a recruiter is no different than vetting and hiring a candidate. Do your research and choose a search firm with a track record of filling searches with A-List talent in a reasonable amount of time.

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