8 Questions to Ask About Using a Search Firm

Search cost avoidanceI’ve led talent acquisition teams for over 20 years in three industries: banking/financial, high tech, and healthcare, and before that I dabbled in recruiting as an HR generalist. For the past one and a half years I went to the dark side when I joined the executive search world, or so I thought before I took the plunge. What the last couple of years has taught me is that I had things backwards when it comes to deciding whether a search firm should be engaged.

The rest of this article will help define what I mean. I know what you are thinking … is this just another self-serving article about the search industry?

As a leader of talent acquisition teams, I felt it was my responsibility to do what I termed “search avoidance.” I even had a search cost-avoidance metric that looked like the one pictured.

I most often found that I was saving the company money … or was I? I would never consider using a search firm until the internal staffing team was not able to source and secure the talent that our internal customers needed. I usually used a metric of total days open to gauge when we were “getting in trouble” or would determine that we didn’t have the skill set to do the work.

As I’ve thought through that approach, I realized that it was totally backwards! What is ultimately important is whether the actions you take will get the results expected. Here are a few questions you should consider asking early in the engagement process with the internal client:

  • Does my internal staff have the background and experience to be successful in this search?
  • Does my internal staff have the bandwidth to complete the search in the time the client needs it done?
  • Is this a repetitive search or a one off?
  • Does the internal staff have the passion to successfully complete this search?
  • Does the internal client really know what they want or will they know it when they see it?
  • How critical to the success of the business is this search? I.e. is there immediate contribution to the bottom line or top line by completing the search? If so, measure the loss of that against the search fee, not whether avoiding the search is avoiding cost.
  • Which direction is best to determine whether you will get a quality hire?
  • Do you have search firms that you can trust and engage to deliver in the time frame needed, and have you created an assessment process to determine if they have had success in this type of search?

What I think you will find is that you will be perceived by your internal clients as adding value to your team and your organization. Don’t get me wrong — you must continue to be diligent about spending money wisely. But it may be time to do what Dr. Covey suggested quite a few years ago. When it comes to the use of a search firm “begin with the end in mind.”

I welcome any comments or thoughts about this approach or lessons you’ve learned that I might share in the future.

Bill Graves, the managing partner of Sources for Talent, LLC, has been working with Sanford Rose Associates – The Tolan Group in executive search. He formerly served as director of talent acquisition at Press Ganey Associates. Press Ganey partners with more than 11,000 health care organizations worldwide to create and sustain high-performing organizations, and, ultimately, improve the overall patient experience. While there Mr. Graves implemented a video interviewing platform (HireVue), and was also responsible for behavioral interviewing and assessment implementation, and applicant tracking assessment investigation and implementation. Earlier in his career he was technical recruiting manager and divisional recruiting director at Xerox. There he was responsible for technical recruitment in the engineering and IT departments as well as sales and customer recruiting and implementation of an on-site temporary staffing process. He also served as an end-to-end corporate staffing system team member. Graves earlier held several HR and recruiting roles at Boeing, Bank of America, and Tektronix.

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