You’re Getting Jobbed by Your Search Firm

Employees have grown increasingly dependent on search firms to fill managerial posts. But not all search firms are up to the task.

Even recruiters say there are some signals that a search firm is not delivering the goods. We asked some of those recruiters, along with executive coaches, employment experts, and corporate executives, to point out the warning signs that could indicate a search is headed nowhere.

What did we end up? Ten sure signs you’re being jobbed by your search firm.

1. Your Recruiter Meets Candidates Before Meeting with You

Generally speaking, having a position go vacant for any length of time does not reflect well on a manager. It can also drag down existing workers, who are often asked to pick up the slack.

But filling an empty position just to plug a hole can be a real bad idea. As David Moyer, president of New York-based recruitment firm Moyer Sherwood Associates, notes: “The point is not to put a body in a seat, but to solve a problem.”

The providers of the bodies need to follow the same precept. In fact, recruitment experts point out that the most successful job searches are laid out weeks before a recruiter even meets with potential job candidates. In that run-up to actual interviews, a recruiter should be in close contact with the corporate client.

Michael Assaad, regional director for Chicago-based specialty recruiter Ajilon Finance, says the best recruitment firms tend to follow a similar checklist before they start meeting with potential candidates. “Skipping steps to save time or for any other reason,” warns Assaad, “will cause unpredictable results.” That, he says, could lead to a failed search.

And just what are those steps? A few of the due diligence to-do’s (stipulating deliverables, meeting with a client’s search team, drawing up a candidate profile) seem fairly obvious.

But beyond those, experts note that a top-notch recruiter will typically deliver an in-depth search plan that details where the firm will look for candidates (personal network, client contacts, similar industries, and the like). Usually, reliable placement firms also draw up initial target lists that identify top talent and their contact information.

While much of this may seem like glorified scutt work, hiring experts say a lack of early preparation can throw a search way off course. Stephen McMahan, group president of Tampa-based staffing firm Kforce Inc., points out that most clients and candidates start out with conflicting goals. Candidates tend to seek job opportunities that offer professional and personal growth, as well as reasonable pay. Clients, on the other hand, want the best for less.

Ultimately, it’s the search firm’s job to bridge the divide. The bridging becomes a tall task, however, if clients and recruiters are going in opposite directions from the outset.

(To see why some internal department candidates are often passed over for a vacant CFO job, read “The Wrong Stuff.”)

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