Choosing an Executive-Search Firm

Here are some questions HR leaders should consider when interviewing and selecting a retained executive-search firm.

Friday, May 16, 2008
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* Does the firm, and more importantly does the search consultant, have the demonstrated search and industry expertise we are looking for to complete this search?

Expertise should cover:

Depth of executive search experience. Just having worked in industry for a given period of time, and being very successful in that time, does not translate necessarily into being good at conducting executive search.

Deep executive search experience in a given industry will mean an understanding of the client and candidate market, a developed network, how to find, approach and recruit executives, how to use hot button issues in recruiting, how to objectively assess candidates and how to assist in the negotiation of offers.

Depth of experience having operated in, or served, a particular industry. Having worked in, or served search clients in, a particular industry can  mean a developed network, an understanding of the market, hot-button issues for clients and candidates in that market, and the ability to relate and connect well with clients and candidates.

Depth of experience in a functional specialty, as required. Many functional areas are fungible across industry specialization (such as HR or finance), others may require specific industry experience as well (such as marketing or R&D).

Keep in mind, search consultants with deep corporate experience are often hired by search firms for their network of potential clients for the search firm and may have little correlation to being able to successfully execute a search.

Depth of experience recruiting in a particular geography or across borders.

Here are some additional questions:

* What similar/relevant searches have you successfully completed recently? In the past year? Two years? (A successful search is defined as the search consultant having found the final hired candidate.)

* Who are, or have been, your clients in this area? Ask for a list of references that can speak about the consultant's/firm's search abilities. Ask to speak to some of the placements.

* What are your off-limits like? (What firms can you not recruit out of for this search?) How will this affect the outcome of this search?

* Do you practice parallel processing? If so, which candidates are being processed in this way? Ask for notification as soon as it happens.

* What guarantees do you have for your work?

* How much do you charge for expenses and what do they cover?

* Do you specialize in any particular type of searches? (professional services, IT, HR, etc.) How did you come to specialize in that area? What have you done to make yourself an expert in this area? (published, previous industry experience, etc.)

* What have you done to make yourself an expert in executive talent and search?

* What percentage of your placements are still employed where you placed them two years later?

* What is your search process?

When asking how the search is conducted, ask these questions:

*Who, if anyone, assists you? What is their role? Their background and experience? May I meet them?

* How involved are you in the actual execution of the search? Do you outsource any part of the process? To whom?

* Are you making the outreach calls to candidates?

* Do you personally interview each candidate?  

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* Do you provide a resume and written assessment on each candidate you recommend for interview?

* How do you monitor and ensure quality?

* How many searches do you personally conduct at one time? How many do you have right now?

* What experience do you have negotiating executive compensation packages?

* What are the milestones I can expect during this process? When will they be?

Additional questions to ask are:

* What is your completion percentage for this type of search? What is your average time to complete? What percentage of your clients are repeat, long term clients over the past two years? Can I speak to them? How many searches do you close in a month? Quarter? Year?

* How do you go about ensuring a diverse slate of candidates?

* What was your worst search experience with a client? Why? How did you handle it?

* What is the market like for the type of individual we are looking for? Is it a tight/thin market? Competitive?

* What are you seeing as far as compensation trends for this type of individual?

* What would a target list of companies you would recruit out of look like?

* Are you a member of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruiters or other recognized professional organizations?

* Will you advertise or post this position anywhere? Where?

* How do you assess candidates? (What training or experience do you have in the assessing of senior candidates?)

* To what ethical code do you subscribe?

Jay Andre is head of executive hiring for the McLean, Va.-based consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

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