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.

2. Stalking Horse, Hidden Point Man

To avoid problems down the road, hiring experts say employers should be watching for signs of problems at the beginning of an engagement. Two classic early signs of pending trouble: the appearance of a “stalking horse,” and the disappearance of the person who signed the search contract.

A stalking horse is an unqualified prospect sent by the recruiter to the client. The purpose? To secretly test the accuracy of the candidate profile. While it may be helpful to a search firm, sending out a stalking horse is a lazy way of gathering information from the client — and underhanded, to boot.

Recruiters are quick to point out, however, that a stalking horse is not the same as a benchmark candidate. With a benchmark candidate, the search firm informs both the job seeker — and the employer — that the person is being brought in primarily to help refine the profile.

As for disappearing consultants: insiders say clients should be concerned when a high-level search firm executive makes a sales pitch, attends the contract signing — and then falls off the face of the earth when the search gets underway. Usually, the disappearing consultant fobs off client phone calls, requests, and other inquires to researchers or associates.

Averting the brush-off is not easy, but recruiters say clients should establish early on who will be the contact person at the search firm.

(Read more on customer-service snags.)

3. No Pushback

During the halcyon days of the new economy, a blue chip corporate client of The Directorship Search Group was eager to hire a technology specialist from Silicon Valley. But as Linda Ducruet, managing director at The Directorship, recalls, the search was doomed from the start.

Why? Because the client was offering a puny salary for the position. Worse, the client would not budge from that number — even after Ducruet informed the employer that proposed pay for the job was not even close to market rates.

Ducruet says her client was not happy with her frank assessment of the salary allotted for the job. But the search veteran maintains that it’s a recruiter’s job to evaluate the market — and to let clients know when their expectations are unreasonable.

In fact, forthrightness can be a sign a recruiter is truly paying attention. For example, McMahan says on several occasions he’s caught clients asking for five years of experience “with products that have only been on the market for three years.”

Of course, CFOs and HR executives may not be thrilled with tough questions coming from a well-compensated outsourcer. But Kenneth Greger, managing director of Portland-based search firm Greger/Peterson Associates, insists that a client should be suspicious of a recruiter who offers little or no push back during the course of a job search.

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