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.

They come up to speed quickly, however, when a subcontractor breaks the law. According to Carpe, a principal at Clew LLC in Boston, some outsourced researchers use computer system hackers to gather intelligence on candidates. Others misrepresent themselves on the phone (a tactic known as social engineering). Both approaches are illegal.

(Read more about social engineering.)

8. Too Many, Too Fast

Fast hires often turn into bad hires, placement experts say. In fact, all the recruiters and executives interviewed for this article said it takes more than two weeks — and often two to three months — to find a high-level candidate who fits a company’s business focus and culture. But be forewarned: such an approach eats up time. Carpe insists that thorough searches call for “donut research.” Basically, the researcher triangulates the search by focusing on a prospect’s industry, company, and personal contacts.

A sharp search firm also will request a list of “carve out” candidates from the client. These are executives the client has already interviewed — or has identified as prospects. Carve-out candidates should not be presented as part of the search, says Radican’s Wright.

Indeed, keeping the number of interviews down to a manageable lot makes for a more productive search, especially since a growing number of recruiters have adopted more time-consuming behavioral interviews.

For mid-level positions, executive recruiter Honig believes a client doesn’t need to see more than a half dozen candidates. For senior jobs, he says 20 or 30 candidates are sometimes needed.

That is, when you can find them. For C-level positions, Honig says there is often a small universe of qualified candidates.

9. Not Hard Enough on Soft Issues

If you think the human factor doesn’t play a crucial role in the hiring of a new employee, consider this tale:

About three years ago, a private, mid-size maker of computer systems for manufacturing plants initiated a search for a COO. According to Robert Williamson, former CFO of the manufacturer, the board tabbed the company CEO to be the client liaison on the project, which was led by Big Four placement firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Seems like a simple enough task. And it would have been — if the CEO actually wanted to fill the position. But as the company’s board found out later, the chief executive wasn’t the least bit interested in hiring a COO. This left the placement firm in the unenviable position of finding the perfect candidate for a post that would never be occupied.

Williamson, who has been a director at several small and midsize ventures, says divergent opinions among management and board members are common in managerial-level job searches. Often, a conflict isn’t addressed until after the company has spent a sizeable amount of time and money on a search. Williamson, currently CFO of CityMerch Corp. in Miami Beach, believes much of the problem lies with clients who aren’t candid about what they want — until it’s too late.

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