What to Look For When Hiring a Search Firm

Do you like and trust the recruiter who will be working on your search?

When you conduct a search, the recruiter will act as an ambassador marketing your company and this role to an appropriate talent pool.   They will be marketing your company as a destination and this role as a possible next career.  Is this someone you want representing and branding you and your organization?  Do your like the recruiter’s presentation style?  Do you trust them?  If this recruiter called you about an opportunity, would you listen?

 The size of the search firm – bigger is not always better.

It’s easy to assume that bigger is better – but when it comes to executive search, this isn’t always the case.  The way the executive search industry works is that every company is either a client or a source of candidates, but never both. That means once an executive search firm does work for a company, there is an agreement that the search firm will not recruit from that same company as long as they are partnering together. The larger the search firm, the larger the list of conflicts. The larger search firms actually have a smaller group of companies that they can target for sources of candidates. Find out which companies are existing clients and therefore off limits. Think smaller rather than bigger when you hire your next executive search firm.

Who will actually be doing the work?  

While you may have a senior team pitch on the business, often the people pitching aren’t conducting the actual search process. Find out: Who is doing the recruiting? Who is doing the interviewing? And, who is negotiating the offer? The ability to attract top talent is directly related to the person who manages and executes the search.

 How many searches is the recruiter actively working on at the moment?

If your recruiter is working on 2-5 searches you can trust that you will be a priority.  If your recruiter is managing a large volume of searches at the same time your search may not have first priority.  Get a sense of what your recruiter’s current volume of searches is like.

How responsive is the recruiter? 

When you send a message, how quickly does the recruiter respond?   Are they connected remotely so they have access to your file when they go home at night?  Often candidates can’t talk during regular business hours.  Are they reachable by Blackberry, Cell, Text, Home Office etc?  Can you reach them after hours? Personal attention makes all the difference.

 What care and attention has the recruiter taken to get to know you, your company and the role?

Make sure that your recruiter takes the time to come to your office and meet you. That way they can get a sense of the culture.  Find out from them: What will they say about you?  What is their approach to marketing this opportunity to candidates?  How will they sell you as a manager and your organization as a great place to work?

What is the reliance on a database vs. direct contact sourcing (headhunting)?

While a big database is useful – recruiting databases often become cumbersome and out of date very quickly if information isn’t updated in real time.  Make sure that your recruiter creates a list of target companies to recruit from and is skilled in networking and navigating their way to find referral candidates.  You want to get the best candidate for the role – not the best candidate in the database. Make sure that your recruiter is using proactive search techniques (calling directly into clients’ competitors and referral networks) to source top performing candidates, rather than relying on the passive techniques such as ads and Internet job boards.


How does your recruiter determine the interviewing criteria? What do they screen for? Do they use a behavioural interviewing approach?  How will they communicate the results of the interviews to you in a way that is meaningful to you?  Your search consultant must have the skills, experience, time and desire to provide you with these more meaningful insights.

 How does this search firm communicate with candidates who interview for the role, but aren’t selected?

In each search, there is usually only 1 and sometimes 2 finalist candidates who are hired.  What happens to the candidates who don’t make the final cut?  What is the recruiter’s approach to communicating with these candidates to close the loop?  If this is not managed professionally, it can create a negative experience that will not only reflect on the search firm, but also on your organization.  Make sure that your recruiter does complete work.


And finally, does the recruiter seem to have a sense of passion for their job? Passion is contagious.  It has people want to call back.

Written by Shanna Landolt, President – Secrets from a Headhunter & The Landolt Group You can reach Shanna at shanna@landoltgroup.com or 416-849-3855