1999 - Choosing your headhunter
issued by headhunting organisations suggest that
executive search activity has been slowing down
after a period of strong growth. From the point
of view of the consumer it may not be a bad thing
that some of the heat has been taken out of the
It was probably coincidence but
the question of standards arose at two separate
meetings last week with search consultants.
One of the consultants complained
that many client companies were not discerning
enough when engaging their headhunters. "They
don't ask the right questions," he said.
"In fact some don't ask
questions at all beyond the price."
One problem may be that too few
clients know the types of questions they should
be asking so I rang around some experienced hands
in the search business to make a "hit list"
of questions that could be useful to ask a headhunter
when evaluating its services.
Is the firm or the individual
headhunter a recognised specialist in their
field with knowledge of a particular sector
and do they have a reputation in a particular
industry or marketplace? This can be important
if potential candidates are to take their
calls. Alternatively a generalist might be
a better bet for a non-executive appointment.
Can the firm provide detailed
information on successful completed assignments
for, say, the past 12 months? What is its
success rate - the percentage of successful
placings among all assignments?
How long is the search going
to take? As a guide it might be pertinent
to ask the average time taken for a search
from previous successful assignments.
What is the average length
of stay of a chosen candidate? This may be
a useful pointer to the quality of past recruits.
Who is going to do the search?
Will it be the smartly dressed partner fronting
the deal, the consultant who comes along to
the presentation as a sidekick, or the researcher
hidden away in a basement? The use of researchers
is not necessarily a bad thing but their role
is sometimes disguised. The search firm should
be able to spell out the role of any individual
with a significant involvement in the search.
How is the candidate short-list
sourced and researched? How thorough will
the firm be in checking the suitability of
What is the firm's off-limits
policy and how is it applied? One of the biggest
irritants among the clients of headhunters
is to find the firm they engaged to recruit
people a year ago returning to poach people
for another client. It might be useful to
ask the firm if it will list its other clients.
If they include all your competitors you might
wonder where the firm finds its candidates.
Can the firm provide references
from previous clients?
What is the fee structure
and in what circumstances might the client
expect the firm to carry out a second search
free of charge? Is it a failed search, for
example, if a recruit ups and leaves after
six months in the post without any provocation
from the employer?
Nancy Garrison Jenn, a consultant
on the headhunting business, includes some helpful
tips in her book, The Global 200 Executive Recruiters
(Jossey-Bass). The ownership structure, she points
out, can point to the way that consultants work
together. Mentions by candidates or recommendations
by other customers are other good ways, she says,
to get a sense of a firm's competence.
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