Questions to ask your recruitment firm

Posted on: Monday, 28 January 2019 in Opinion Pieces .

Questions to ask your recruitment firm

The start of a new year is a natural time for candidates to consider a change of job and for many businesses, as the financial year-end approaches, to review their headcount requirements. Below Joanne McAuley from Clarendon Executive suggests some questions HR departments might ask, and areas to explore, when deciding on which search firm is right for your organisation.

1. What is the firm’s track record?

What sectors, positions and level of seniority do they focus on? Do they have expertise in your field? If they have a focus on your industry then they will likely have more connections to work with. If a firm has lots of experience with junior level positions, but none with senior level, then you may not be able to rely on them for your higher level needs.

It’s important to see hard evidence of this track record, so don’t be shy in asking for statistics around completion rates as well as several client testimonials. Any firm can play up its success but it takes real quality to get positive testimonials from previous clients.

2. Who will be doing the work?

Once you have satisfied yourself as to the firm’s capabilities and track record, your focus should turn to the individual or individuals you will be working with.

In many search firms it is a senior person who sells to and meets the client before handing the execution of the search over to a more junior employee. How much specifically gets delegated depends on the firm but it is important at the beginning of the relationship to determine exactly who will be doing what as it can impact the effectiveness of the process.

In order to understand the relevant skills, experience and personal network of the individual consultant you are working with, ask them about the industries they’ve worked in along with the successes and challenges they’ve faced – this will help give you an insight into the value they can bring to your particular search.

3. How will you assess candidates – what is the process?

It is critical that you seek detail about the search firms approach towards the recruitment process. This includes the efforts made by the firm to understand the recruitment needs of the company, the methods used for accessing the candidates and its skill and ability to arrange and conduct the interviews.

It is also important to understand the details about the tools and processes used by the firm to perform the search in the right manner and methods used to attract the candidates. If the search brief is for a junior level position then an interview-only process may be sufficient but at executive level there should be quantitative assessments and extensive reference checks.

Look also for firms that have integrated technology into their search process - applicants should be able to apply online, via the firm’s job portal, which captures and stores in a GDPR compliant manner all applicant materials in an integrated management system.

4. What are the key deliverables?

These may vary from firm to firm but you should receive information on what can be expected at each stage of the process from information gathering to acceptance of offer. Ask in advance of appointing a firm to see examples of their candidate briefing documents, status reports and candidate evaluations to determine if the style and detail meets your expectations.

5. What is your “off limits” policy?

When it comes to senior level appointments, it is vital for hiring organisations to get a clear understanding of a search firm’s off-limits restrictions. It is totally acceptable to ask the firm to specifically name the companies it can recruit out of and which ones it cannot due to a conflict of interest.

6. How long should we expect the process to take?

It’s important to set realistic expectations at the outset and appreciate every search is unique, depending on the nature of the position being recruited for.

Typically we find the process can take up to 12 weeks, with an average time of between 6 and 8 weeks. This includes search, first and second stage interviews, psychometric testing but not notice period. If you are looking to fill a position urgently then this question will of course be important, but if not, then quality of candidate should take priority over speed of process.

7. How do you ensure confidentiality?

Some organisations prefer to be discreet about their relationship with a search firm as they do not want investors or other interested parties knowing about the search for political or financial reasons. If this is you, make sure the firm include a non-disclosure statement in their contract and a clause that they will never use your company’s name or trademarks in their marketing to other potential applicants.

There is also an onus on the hiring organisation to ensure that any of the company details that are published in the candidate briefing document are not commercially sensitive as the search firm cannot prevent the recipient passing that document onto someone else.

Joanne McAuley

Joanne McAuley

Joanne McAuley is a Partner at Clarendon Executive, specialists in executive search, performance and the provision of interim management in Northern Ireland. With over 20 years’ experience in recruiting at the highest level, Joanne has an exceptional track record in senior and board appointments within the public, private and third sectors.

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