How to Get the Most Out of Working With a Search Firm

by Mike Whillock on in Leadership

We all know that a company’s ability to thrive depends on identifying and hiring great talent. It’s up to the internal recruitment groups to have multiple arrows in their quivers to find these folks and reel them in. I’m talking about a strong advertising strategy/employment brand, a competitive employee referral program, perhaps a LinkedIn recruiter account, just to name a few. Also a great, or a couple of great external vendors that you can rely on to fill high profile, ultra-competitive, or difficult-to-fill roles

Working with a search firm allows your organization to obtain dedicated time and resources to help fill your job and, if you’ve chosen the right firm, the ability to tap into a passive market that you might not have been privy to.

As a Talent Acquisition professional, and ultimately the one that is accountable for finding the best talent, it’s important that you understand how to collaborate with search firms effectively.  It’s also equally important for companies to understand how to make the most of the relationship with the firm – otherwise, things can quickly move in the wrong direction. Here are some quick pointers you can use to make sure you’re getting the most out of that relationship and have a successful experience.

Understand Their Model

First of all, not all search firms are created equal.  Are they actively sourcing and marketing your company and your position or are they passive sourcers that are more candidate-driven?  Do they have potential candidates that they tap into for your role and if they don’t work out, do they move on to hot new jobs or is there a consistent focus on your role?  Will candidates presented for your role be presented to other firms at the same time?  Some search firms pass lightly vetted resumes to you and/or the hiring manager without doing much beyond a qualification discussion. So the job of assessing the quality candidates will fall squarely on your shoulders. This is why before hiring a search firm, it pays to get a deeper understanding of their approach to search, how they vet candidates and how exactly they operate.

Know What to Expect

Each firm is different so it’s necessary to know what to expect from a search firm right at the outset. For example, some firms want a few details about the job and they will be off and running.  Other firms will want to take the time to learn about your organization- meet with your hiring manager, understand your company culture, perhaps see your company’s work environment and to also fully understand the details of the job.

Communication about expectations should be very open and two-way. Tell the firm of any specific requirements needing to be fulfilled, while also ensuring that the firm clearly spells out their process to you.

Here’s a quick list of questions you may want to ask the firm before engaging them to avoid potential problems or confusion down the road.

  • Do they have a documented process for both parties to discuss all aspects of the search?
  • Do they typically provide one resume at a time or a slate of candidates?
  • How will they communicate with you — via phone, email, or in person? How frequently?
  • What is their timeframe for presenting candidates?
  • What happens when there’s a delay in the expected timeline?
  • What happens if the search turns out to be more challenging than anticipated?

Communication is key

A good search firm will want to provide their clients with regular status updates and you need this too. There is nothing worse than having a hiring manager at your door asking what’s happening and you not knowing the status.  So, set clear expectations from the start about the frequency of updates.

In my experience, weekly calls to discuss the progress of the search works great. It will keep you and the manager in the loop on the search and it keeps the search firm updated on feedback, internal discussions and any changes that might be occurring with the profile.

While simple, I’ve found these steps should lead to a more successful search in the long run.  Are there others you might add from your experience?

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