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.

But recruiters also bear some responsibility when soft issues bedevil a search. The fact is, placement firms are hired to make sure job hunts go smoothly — and part of the task involves defusing personality clashes before they short-circuit the process. Employment experts say a recruiter who seems disinterested in the temperament of a candidate — or the candidate’s prospective boss — is letting down on the job.

Getting a handle on the emotional make-up of prospective hires is so important, in fact, that many search firms conduct personality tests on candidates before they even make it to the interview room. Such analysis, called psychometrics, can indicate that a search firm is going above and beyond its obligation.

For companies, psychometric testing should be standard practice for top-level hires. “Companies that don’t use [psychometric] assessments won’t make it from the talent perspective,” says Michael Spremulli, president and CEO of human resources consulting firm The Chrysalis Corp. “They will simply wind up in a cycle of non-retention.”

And that’s a tough pattern to break. As one consultant points out, employers tend to be suspicious of candidates who’ve jumped from company to company. Likewise, candidates are extremely suspicious of an employer that can’t seem to hold on to its employees.

(For a review of the ABCs, read “That Good Old-Time Retention.”)

10. A Parade of Paper Tigers

An inaccurate candidate profile spells trouble, often producing a string of mediocre and incompatible interviewees. In search firm parlance, truly unsuitable applicants are called paper tigers.

While paper tigers tend to look good on…well…paper, the candidates simply don’t measure up in person — or personality. Ironically, Kforce’s McMahan notes that these prospective hires often possess the requisite skills and experience for a job. But, he adds, they tend to be horribly mismatched in terms of corporate culture or temperament.

The examples are endless. One headhunter tells the story of an operations veteran who was motivated by entrepreneurial challenges — but wound up interviewing for a job at a company that was exceedingly risk-averse. Another recruiter recounts the time a Boston-bred, liberal Democrat CFO interviewed at a company run mostly by conservative, Republican Southerners.

Admittedly, even the best placement firms send out the wrong candidates on occasion. But hiring experts say if you find yourself interviewing a string of paper tigers, chances are your executive recruiter is either a) handling too many clients, or b) in the wrong line of work.

Conversely, dependable search firms make every effort to minimize mismatches. Many kick off a search with interviews of potential bosses, subordinates, and peers. Those interviews help create a 360-degree view of the job to be filled. Such meticulousness helps a recruiter develop an accurate candidate profile — one that takes into account things like corporate culture and interpersonal dynamics.

Recruiter Greger also warns clients to be on the lookout for what he calls “marquee candidates.” These executives and managers usually come with great corporate pedigrees and skills, but with little else to recommend them for a particular job.

At the height of the Internet boom, Greger says marquee candidates were in great demand at startups and other burgeoning businesses. Companies were snatching up executives solely because they were alumni of Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft, or a handful of other high-profile tech companies.

But as Greger points out, the skills that make an executive successful in one environment don’t necessarily play in another. Recruiters say regardless of experience and education, a candidate must fit the job — and not the other way around.


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