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.

Birman’s alternative? The CFO of the privately held, Newark, N.J.-based company uses the self-serve, Internet-based Monster.com to fill all the company’s job vacancies.

Birman is not alone. As we’ve noted, an increasing number of companies are turning to virtual job sites to help fill staff positions.

5. A Small Circle of Friends

Back when he was a Silicon Valley executive (and search-firm client), James Wright says he had real trouble trying to hire a new vice president of marketing for his employer. Why? Four out of the five final candidates the search firm sent him, he recalls, listed CBS Television Network as a current or former employer.

To Wright, that C.V. line item was a sure sign that the recruiter never widened the search beyond his current contacts. “Some search firms try to sell you what they know,” warns Wright, “not what you need.”

A few early slip-ups doesn’t necessarily mean the search firm is off-base, however. Wright, who now runs information technology recruiter Radican Staffing in Providence, R.I., concedes there’s a great deal of give-and-take in the selection process. One sure way to gauge how the search is going: the candidates should be getting closer to the mark as the hunt progress.

Search consultant Moyer says clients would be well served to keep track of how many candidates are left over from previous searches. After only a month of investigation, he notes, it’s acceptable if a few candidates are pulled from the search firm’s existing files. But by the second month of the engagement, all candidates should be culled specifically for the current search.

How to spot recycled candidates? Ask the search firm if the candidate was developed for your specific assignment, and how they found the candidate. Then, during interviews, ask candidates how long they’ve worked with the search firm and when the search executives contacted them.

6. Not Up-Front About Hands-Off

Twenty years ago, search executives seemed more like magicians than management consultants. Moyer, who opened his own shop in 1991, recalls how recruiters would show up for a client meeting, scribble down information, disappear, and rematerialize with a slate of candidates weeks later. “It was a black art,” he jokes.

Not any longer. Transparency is the real trick to successful searches these days, says Los Angeles-based executive agent, Neal Lenarsky of STI. But even Lenarsky concedes that not all search firms are as clear about their practices as they could be.

Take the so-called hands-off policy. A standard promulgated by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), the policy dictates that a search firm refrain from recruiting from existing clients (generally, for one to two years after completing an assignment).

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