How to Know When You Need to Hire a Search Firm

by Mason Smith on in Leadership

Many employers think of partnering with a search firm as something of a last resort — and one that they don’t normally consider while trying to fill the gaps in their teams. As someone who has spent nearly 18 years in the field of Recruiting and Human Resources, I’ve seen this first hand.

Early in my career, I worked for a large government contracting company (which later became Lockheed Martin), where hiring a third-party recruiting firm was considered merely an extra cost that would cut into the company’s profits. I suspect that they didn’t quite realize how much more they were losing by not looking beyond their internal hiring teams. In fact, we knew that for every day a seat went vacant, the company was losing revenue.

I later moved to Molson Coors, where they had a very different philosophy. The senior management had taken on Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’ approach when it came to talent. They viewed every single employee as a valuable member directly responsible for their growth and differentiation. As recruiters, we were tasked with partnering with the business to understand their specific talent needs and also with finding potential hires from top companies in the consumer packaged goods industry. This required building connections with specialized recruiting firms that understood where this talent was and how to get them to come to Coors.
Both companies had vastly different philosophies when it came to recruiting and paying for the right talent. Neither of them was wrong, as they were doing what they needed to do in order to be successful.

Years later, I led talent acquisition for a large energy company where I built upon my previous experience. We had a small team that worked very hard but I knew they weren’t able to meet all of our business needs. We were in a tight spot — we received a high volume of requisitions but there were few people with the skills we needed, and the locations for which we were recruiting were very remote. We also had roles that required a lot of research and poaching. We needed to strike a balance in creating a recruiting strategy that would work for us. We realized that we did not need to use search firms for every position, but it would be great to have them as partners we could turn to when our workload got too high or we had a critical role to fill. In my experience, this approach works well for most companies in today’s labor market.

Why Partner With a Search Firm?

In this candidate-driven marketplace where hiring talent is both time-consuming and expensive, building a partnership with external search firms is becoming more critical than ever. LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends report reveals that 46% of companies struggle to find candidates in high-demand talent pools.

Working with a search firm allows your organization to rely on dedicated time and resources to help fill your job. Plus, by helping you tap into a passive market, search firms opens up a talent pool that you didn’t previously have access to. But the truth is — you don’t always need external help in building your team. Here are some cases when you really do.
When is the Best Time to Bring in a Search Firm?

1. You’re recruiting for a key or high-profile role

High profile searches can be a tough challenge for internal recruiters to execute. These are the positions that are difference makers in your organization, be it executive roles or functional or market leaders. These searches require a high level of detail in market research, sourcing, process management and both candidate and internal communication. This requires a great deal of time and effort which cannot always be dedicated by an internal recruiter that is managing 30+ requisitions. This is a good time to tap into a partner that will give the search the amount of research, outreach, candidate development, and communication needed to ensure the search is done right.

Good search firms will also tap into a candidate pool that may not be available to an internal recruiter, ultimately increasing your chances of making the right hire. They will also deeply assess candidates on both technical and cultural fits, weeding out the under- and over-qualified. Done right, this process saves you time and money in the long run.

2. You’re out scouting for talent in a challenging location
During times of low unemployment, finding good talent for rural or remote locations can become much more challenging than finding them in a larger city. It can be a lengthy process requiring significant research and candidate sourcing/outreach to identify quality candidates that live in, or have a desire to live in, those locations.
Search firms will develop a great pitch for the job and have the time, resources and contacts that enable them to reach out to hundreds of potential candidates and to screen them effectively for such roles.

3. A highly technical/specialized role needs to be filled
For many highly specialized positions, the demand is very high and you need people “in the know” to source for this specialized talent and sell him or her on opportunities at hand.
Recruiters who specialize in a niche market will bring broader market knowledge and can introduce you to candidates in their networks with whom you may not have come across or gained access to on your own. For instance, hiring for technical roles requires a search firm with expertise on the skillsets that are most in-demand within the industry. They will not only help you reach a network of people with the right skillsets required for your position, but can provide consultation on fair compensation packages, based on their market knowledge, to attract top talent.

4. It’s a confidential search
Often, companies look at replacing senior executives, relocating a function or upgrading/transitioning a specific key role, but aren’t able to notify the affected employees prior to having a new hire or team in place. In these situations, having a key search partner you can trust is invaluable. A great search firm should be able to conduct the search for the replacement with a high level of discretion and sensitivity without alerting the employees or external marketplace to the changes in your organization.
Similarly, as your company evolves and changes its strategic focus, you may find that your organization doesn’t possess the skillsets and competencies necessary to operate in this new environment. A search firm can help you quietly evaluate the available talent pool to address changing market dynamics.

5. It’s taking too long to fill a position
When a key position has been open over 90 days with little progress, and your recruitment attempts have failed, you know it’s time to partner with a search firm.

Now more than ever, the right talent is what sets great companies apart from average ones. When it comes to seeking out and hiring the right candidate, search firms are one of the most valuable partnerships your company can invest in, but knowing when and how to use them effectively is what makes all the difference!

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