Hiring managers are often disappointed with search firms.

Not coincidentally, search firms are often disappointed with hiring managers.

The root cause of this mutual disappointment is often a simple matter of unmet expectations.  And it starts with a (big) unexamined assumption about what the search firm is expected to do for you once you engage them.  So what, exactly, are your expectations when you hire a search firm?

If you are like 9 out of 10 hiring managers, you will say you expect them to “find the best candidates for the job” – end of story.

If they do that, you are happy, right?

Except quite often you are not happy when all they do is find the best candidates.  Like when the “best candidate” turns down a second interview with you, or takes another job, or when all the best people have salary expectations 30% more than you budgeted.   Yeah, if only hiring were so simple (Step 1:  Find good people  Step 2:  Hire them).

So, while “finding the best candidates” is undeniably important, it’s really just a fraction of the value a good search firm should bring to the table.  The reality is that finding great people and getting them to take an interview is, at best, a fourth of what you should be expecting from your search firm.    If you want to break the cycle of disappointment and make better hires, you need to expect more.

So here is what to look for in a search firm (or internal recruiter) beyond raw recruiting ability:

  • Market Knowledge:  A great recruiter should be able to share job market information – so your expectations are in line with market realities.   (HINT: You may not like it, but if they always agree with you, or if you never learn anything in talking with them, that is a sure sign that you are not talking to the right recruiter.  A recruiter who “goes along” with a hiring manager’s unrealistic market expectations is doomed to waste precious time on a long, protracted search failure. )
  • Candidate Assessment: A great recruiter should not only help you clarify what you are looking for in a candidate, they should also help you understand how to assess each candidate, and work with you to develop a rigorous screening process to evaluate each person on their merits.  They should challenge your unconscious biases so you consider “out of the box” candidates, play devil’s advocate when you “fall in love” with one candidate at the expense of considering others, and help you carefully look at each candidate from all angles.  (They should not be “selling you” on any one candidate, but rather challenging your thinking.  They need to encourage you to look beyond the superficial, easy answers and dig into whether the person is truly a good fit for the organization. In short, you want someone who treats executive search like a process, not a “sale.” )
  • Decision Support:  A great recruiter should be brilliant at managing the hiring decision process, gathering the key players, forging a consensus and getting to the hire/don’t hire decision in an orderly, methodical fashion.   (They should not sit back and hope that you get around to making a decision in a reasonable timeframe.  They need to be a catalyst for action – to ensure that the hiring project runs on a predictable schedule and does not get sidelined by other matters.  If they don’t appear “pushy” from time to time, they are being too passive.)

A great recruiter should be a full business partner – contributing  business acumen and executive judgment on a par with the hiring manager.  If they cannot contribute at this level, find another recruiter.  Similarly, if you do not trust your recruiter to play at this level, find another recruiter.

Now here is the real question, once you find a great recruiter (or executive search firm) who provides all this value, are you actually willing to listen to them? Follow this link to learn more about the executive search and hiring process.