A client called me to discuss a job opening at his firm. He’s very well connected, so naturally he was wondering if he should try recruiting on his own before engaging us to run the search. “Can you help me weigh the pros and cons of paying you a fee to do what I might be able to do on my own?”

It’s a fair question, and the answer is not as simple as you might expect.

Yes, search fees are expensive, but before running the search yourself, here are a few aspects of the recruiting process it’s easy to overlook:

Identifying candidates:

If you are considered “well connected” in your field, you are probably directly acquainted (1st degree connection) with up to 20% of the potentially viable candidates for your job opening. But are you actually willing to open your rolodex, and aggressively recruit them? Is there anything that would prevent you from contacting some of the top people at your competitors (are you comfortable being perceived as a “raider?”)

Having the ability to identify candidates is only one part of the recruiting equation. The next step is to develop a compelling marketing message (beyond the job description). Messaging quality significantly impacts recruiting results—just emailing around a job description rarely does much to attract the top people.

Do you have time to reach out individually to top candidates?  “Jerry, I thought you might be interested in hearing about this position, and here’s why…”  We get most of our response on our second or third direct contact with a candidate. Successful, focused, busy people often ignore job board ads, don’t read generic newsletter job postings, and even brush off the first direct inquiry. Are you ready to be responsive when candidates express interest? You can’t recruit  people and then leave them hanging.

Evaluating candidates:

After the interview, how comfortable are you in rejecting the people you just went to the trouble of recruiting? it’s easy to reject a stranger who answered a job ad, but harder to reject someone you personally invited to interview.

If you are well-connected, you stand a fair chance of finding at least 2 or 3 qualified candidates on your own. Of course, if you are advertising your opening, you will also receive inquiries from hundreds of less qualified people … many of whom are connected to you through mutual acquaintances. Who will receive all those resumes; who will respond graciously to each one; who will keep your candidates informed of the hiring schedule; and who will send all the rejection letters? Beyond that sort of hiring administrivia, who is available to screen all the candidates against a uniform selection criteria, without showing favoritism?

Moving the Process Toward a Decision:

Finally, who is tasked with moving the hiring process forward to resolution? Hiring delays can be quite costly, but hiring often languishes behind other more urgent priorities. Driving the hiring process forward based upon fair selection criteria usually requires significant leadership focus. Indecision and perceived unfair handling of candidates reflects poorly on all involved.

When your ideal candidates are all connected to you in some way, these issues should be considered before you start the process. A significant number of our new searches come on the heels of a failed search conducted by a busy executive who had the best of intentions, but simply lacked the time to follow through on the search process all by himself.

A solid hiring process involves far more than simply knowing good people.


Follow this link to explore additional information about the executive search and hiring process.

If you are considering retaining the services of an executive search firm, you might want to download this simple, ten-question diagnostic tool to help you ask the right questions of each search firm, just to be sure you did not overlook anything significant.