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Your choice of a recruiter can have a profound effect on the success of your management team, as well as the direction your company ultimately takes.
Be sure to screen your recruiter the same way you screen any potential management consultant for your executive team. The following are some questions that may be useful in making such an important decision:

How many years of recruiting experience do you have?
A rudimentary question, but a necessary one. As with any profession, a long and proven track record offers many advantages for a successful relationship. For example, an experienced recruiter will be able to save time by quickly focusing on and understanding your requirements. Deep industry knowledge and specific functional recruiting expertise (e.g. CFOs) are major factors in shortening the cycle time of your search.

How many searches have you completed in your career? How many searches have you failed to complete in the past three years and why?
Again, the number of a recruiter’s successful searches in your industry and in a specific function will usually correlate with speed and success. The reasons provided for failed searches can give you an insight into potential problems.

Outside of recruiting, how many years of relevant industry experience do you have?
To optimize results from your relationship with a recruiter, it is beneficial to work with a recruiter who’s “been there,” and deeply understands your industry from hands-on experience.

How many searches are you currently working on?
The answer to this question will usually tell you if the recruiter is overextending his or her capacity, or has the time to personally give your search the attention it deserves. If the answer is in the 10 to 20 range, much of the search will be done by less-experienced associates.

What is your average time for completing a search?
Two little known facts: The five largest search firms average four to five months to complete the typical search, and successfully complete only 60 percent to 75 percent of their total searches in the U.S. Your search firm should be able to complete your search in two to three months if they put quality ahead of volume.

Who will actually be calling potential candidates?
In most large search firms, a junior associate will make initial calls to high-level candidates. In almost all cases, high-level candidates tend to respond more positively to high-level recruiters, rather than to those literally reading from a “script” and unable to answer basic or deeper questions about the company and the position.

Do you have access to all companies nationwide?
In large search firms with numerous client relationships across the country, there are prohibitive “off-limits” restrictions placed on which companies can be approached. If you are unable to access all target companies with the best talent, there is a limit on your ability to find the ideal candidate for your organization. This can also potentially mean that you will be paying top dollar for access to only 60 percent to 70 percent of the top candidate pool.

Have any of your successful placements been terminated in the past three years? Why?
Industry contacts, educational checks and thorough reference-taking are all part of an initial screen that makes it possible for a good recruiter to avoid introducing the wrong person into your organization.

What kind of guarantee do you have?
Some search firms will guarantee their work, agreeing to complete the search again for no additional fee if the successful candidate does not perform. If a search firm has any guarantee, it is generally for a maximum one-year period. Very rarely, a firm will have a guarantee period that exceeds the typical one-year agreement.

What is your retainer fee schedule?
Many large search firms typically charge retainer fees on a monthly basis, regardless of the search’s stage or status. On occasion, you will find a search firm that ties the monthly retainer payments to specific benchmark events in the search process. This limits your risk, as your satisfaction will dictate the payment schedule.

 
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