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Essential questions to ask before hiring a search firm

When you’re hiring a recruiter to fill a critical open position, it is important that you select the right executive search partner. 

If you turn your search over to an inexperienced recruiter you could end up making a bad hire, having your position vacant for an extended period of time, or making an offer to a candidate who backs out or fails to show up.  The stakes are high.  

Here are 7 questions you should ask before hiring a recruiter to make sure your executive search will end in a successful outcome: efficiently hiring a candidate who thrives at your organization. 

1. How long have you been doing executive recruiting?

Successful executive recruiters have robust networks and excel at relationship building.  If you want a firm that will succeed at finding the right candidate for your open position, look at how long they have been in business. 

The executive search industry is highly competitive with firms coming and going so if a company has been successful over the long haul you know they’re doing something right. (Kirby Partners has been conducting executive searches since 1989 and we’ve seen many search firms go out of business during this time.)

2. What is your executive search process?

Before you hire a recruiter to find an executive on your behalf, you’ll want to have a clear idea of what exactly they’ll be doing. If they can’t concisely explain their methodology, that’s a red flag. 

The best executive search firms have a clear process outlined for project managing your search. 

Make sure you ask about the ways the search firm accesses passive candidates on your behalf.  Frequently top candidates are already employed so they’re unlikely to be looking on job boards for a new position.  You’ll want a search partner who identifies and reaches out to “passive” candidates who would be a good fit for your organization rather than solely posting your opportunity and seeing who applies. 

3. Can you tell me about some successful executive searches you have completed?

You have two goals with this question. First, you’re looking for the types of results they’ve generated for their clients.  Ideally, they should be able to articulate how they have driven results for clients of similar scale and scope to yours. 

Second, you’re also looking to see how they define success.  Listen for how long it typically takes for them to provide a slate of qualified candidates, how long the average tenure is of placed candidates, and how they follow-up after the search is completed to ensure their clients are satisfied.  

4. What organizations have you worked with in my industry before?

Though best practices don’t necessarily change based on the client’s type of business, it can be helpful to hire a recruiter with experience in your industry because it ensures they have the expertise needed to understand candidates’ qualifications. 

It also means they’re more likely to have the connections needed to uncover the best candidates.  We’ve found that candidates are more likely to take our calls when they’ve met us or know us from industry events like CHIME and the Scottsdale Institute meetings.

5. Can you provide references?

If the recruiting firm can’t provide at least 3 references of satisfied clients, with names and phone numbers, then you should keep looking.

Assuming you get the 3 references, call the people and ask them about their experiences, including the type of search they used the recruiting firm for, the outcome, and whether they would use the search firm again. 

6. What fees do you charge? 

Most retained search firms charge a percentage of the hired candidate’s first year’s salary.

When you receive a quote, it’s important to determine whether the percentage is charged on base and bonus, or just base.  Some firms will take a cut of relocation expenses and many search firms will charge administrative fees of around 10% in addition to the search fees. 

(Kirby Partners doesn’t charge administrative fees making us highly competitive in terms of fees.)

7. What type of guarantee do you offer?

Offering a guarantee of 12 months is pretty standard for an executive placement. 

This typically means that if the candidate is released by your organization for performance related issues during the first twelve months of employment, the search firm conducts a new search to replace the candidate for no additional search fee (charging only expenses incurred).

Supercharge your hiring

Ultimately, hiring an executive search firm can greatly enhance your chances of finding a top-tier executive for your organization. The right partner will offer valuable expertise in identifying and attracting high-caliber candidates to your organization.

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Hire a leader who will propel your organization forward.

Executive search to help you hire executives who will add tremendous value to your organization.