February 24, 2016 Comments Off on TALENT TALK: Searching for the Right Search Firm Views: 438 Connect Classroom

TALENT TALK: Searching for the Right Search Firm

Talent Talk is a regular column on employment trends written by Glen Esnard, the executive vice president and principal of 20-20 Foresight Executive Search. 


Most articles written on how to select a search firm are written by, well, search firms. So they are inherently self-serving. They typically promote a firm’s attributes or promote common practices that benefit the search industry (perhaps at the expense of their clients).

Annually, we take two snapshots. In one, we look at recent articles by the industry about the industry. This post is about our snapshot of how the industry views itself and our perspectives on that view (got that?).

First, a note on our procedure. We use published, attributable articles as our source, and for this discussion we looked at how frequently a selection criteria was identified. Moreover, we focused on operational capabilities or qualities. We excluded what we call “proof statements” such as references, client testimonials and peer review. Their intent is to validate, not as hard performance criteria.

The following are the top five identified criteria:

  1. Sourcing process
  2. Industry expertise
  3. Personalized service
  4. Fees
  5. Performance guarantees

There are, as you might expect, nuances to those criteria.

Sourcing process: Would it be surprising to learn many recruiting firms with very disciplined, rigorous processes haven’t changed them substantially with the advent of technology? Many use technology simply to drive their old practice, to narrow, from tens of thousands to a large handful, potential candidates based on “tags” associated with candidates. That can work only so long as A) the tags on each candidate are accurately spelled out by the intern responsible and B) their database includes all possible candidates. There are very real stories of a “top three” candidate for a position not even contacted for an identical position by the same recruiter weeks later, because the sort didn’t work. Technology should drive a broader reach, not simply a faster winnowing.

Industry Expertise: I am reminded of the family estate attorney who, when asked for a real estate attorney reference responds, “Oh, no problem. I can do that.” Specialization is important. Ask yourself one question, however. Is your recruiter’s expertise based on tenure as a recruiter, or a blend of “been there done that” industry expertise combined with recruitment experience? Has she walked in your shoes?

Personalized Service: Simply, who is really doing the work? Your recruiter is an extension of your firm, a representative who directly reflects on the quality, brand and reputation of your firm. Who’s really talking to the candidates? What does that mean for your firm’s brand and ability to attract talent?

Fees: Most frequently, fees are viewed as the amount paid. We see fees paid as less significant than setting a fee structure that demands performance. We grew up in the real estate business. We understand “broker risk” in transaction compensation. There is no reason recruiters shouldn’t take transaction or closing risk. Reciprocally, a retainer can be good, so long as it is refundable for clear unsatisfactory performance.

Guarantees: This may be the most meaningful factor in the survey. Everyone gives guarantees, essentially refiling the position if the employee leaves, or is terminated within a certain time. The term of guarantee is the best measure of confidence a firm has in its own performance.

Durable success in the real estate sector, irrespective of the niche in which you play, is driven by the quality and commitment of talent in your organization. A strong recruiter and firm can have a powerful impact. Choose wisely!

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