6 “Unwritten Rules” for Working with a Retained Executive Search Firm

Retained search firms always partner with their clients to search for candidates on their behalf, interviewing them before they do, and then presenting only the top candidates.Know The Executive Search Rules

Over my 17-year career as a retained search consultant, I’ve created a list of six unwritten rules for optimizing your relationship with your search firm.

1. Spend Quality Time with Your Search Firm

Don’t just hand your search firm a job spec and expect them to have all the answers by working in a vacuum. Make sure you invest as much time as needed briefing them on the specific criteria for the job, the cultural characteristics for what’s appropriate for your organization, the personalities of recent hires, success stories, and anything else that will help them find the right candidate while working as your advocate. Make sureyour search firm comes prepared with questions to discuss with you and tools to gather this essential information. The more information your firm knows about you and your company the more they will be able to represent you effectively in the marketplace.

2. Have Your Search Firm Rewrite the Corporate Job Spec Without Jargon and Acronyms

Your search firm should make the job description more of a communications document to showcase your corporate brand to the candidate community. Make sure all in-house jargon and acronyms not common across all industries are removed. Highlight why this would be an attractive opportunity for a rock star applicant looking to move up. Consider the job spec a sales document to attract the passive candidates who fit the criteria, rather than a job listing.

3. Create an “Acid Test” of Your Top Three to Six Criteria

For your search firm to gather examples and measurable results during a competency-based interview, you’ll need to compose an “acid test” of the most important skills you’re looking for. Additionally, there should a list of desired “soft skills” including corporate cultural fit, attitude, personality traits, overall and more.

4. Outline Compensation Clearly

You should speak candidly with your search firm about money. In other words, make sure the compensation package parameters are clear and fair for a position of this level. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice about a range of salaries, stock options, and other possible package sweeteners. Discuss the search firm’s prior experience with searches at this level and function. This will help you manage your expectations in terms of what type of experience you should expect to see in the backgrounds. As Brad Smart says in his book Topgrading, “An A player is defined as the best of what is available at the price you are willing to pay.”

5. Let the Search Firm Disclose Candidates’ Positives and Negatives

Executive search firms are experts in finding passive candidates. Through years of training in vetting candidates, sitting through hundreds of high-level interviews, and with a dash of intuition, your search firm can disclose which candidates are the most appropriate for your open position, as well as which aren’t, even if they “look good on paper.” Ask the search firm to compare and contrast the candidates against one another, share any of their concerns, questions about competency, where they are strong, and where they are lacking.

6. Understand and Discuss the Offer and the Reference-Checking Process

Once you’ve chosen your finalist candidates, your search firm will conduct reference checks. References should be gathered from a minimum of 2 bosses, 2 peers, and 2 subordinates. Feel free to let the recruiter know of any additional inquiries you may have beyond their typical questions. Perhaps some questions or concerns surfaced during the interview process. References should help clarify these concerns. These questions could include why a candidate had so many short-term senior positions, why someone left a company where he or she had a great track record, or why someone was passed over for a position he or she deserved.

Do you have experience working with an executive search firm? What “Unwritten Rules” would you add to this list?

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