Ten Tips: Partnering With Recruiting Firms

By Evan Herman @evanfherman

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I write today to provide constructive advice to hiring managers and anyone involved at all in the corporate hiring and recruiting process. Primarily, I do so in order to help bridge the divide that exists between hiring managers, human resources, and external recruiters. Additionally, I hope to address the numerous inefficient, counter-effective, and illogical methods I have observed many otherwise well run companies applying when procuring human capital and recruiting services providers (Also Known as "Executive Search Firms" , "Headhunters", "Recruiting Firms", & "Staffing Firms"). Today I will address the ten most glaring inefficiencies I have encountered in the marketplace and ten tips to address them. Regardless of whether a company produces foodstuffs, widgets, software, financial services, legal advice, etc.; every company at its core is its people; its human capital. Given the vast importance of attracting, developing, and maintaining top human capital to the continued existence and desired growth of all businesses, many companies could benefit from a few tips on how to properly go about procuring human capital. Therefore, without further ado, I present my list of  ten tips for you and your company to apply when vetting and using recruiting firms.


1) Remember To Vet Your Recruiting Firms

Most companies have no set policies, procedures, or guidelines on how to procure the services of recruiting firms. Therefore, these companies often find themselves engaging whoever they happen to know already, whoever they happen to be referred to by their friends and colleagues, whoever happens to cold call them at the right time, and/or whoever they happen to find on a google search. If you as a hiring manager or corporate recruiter are unsure the type of questions to ask to vet and differentiate recruiting firms, it could be helpful to ask them "why should we choose you and why should we pay your fees" over other recruiting firms? " A good recruiting firm will have a clearly defined and unequivocal value proposition for every search.


 2) Using Multiple Recruiting Firms On A Single Job Opening Might Not Be A Good Idea

Many companies think they are being smart by engaging multiple recruiting firms and forcing them to compete on price. While this can be effective in nominally lowering recruiting fees and making sure as wide a net as possible is cast in the search for top resumes & candidates, it has many hidden costs that corporations often fail to take into account. The more search firms you engage and the lower fees you pay on a strictly contingent basis - meaning there is no guarantee any of them will collect a fee - the less motivated recruiting firms are to actually devote the time, energy, and resources necessary to conduct an effective search on your behalf. In other words, the less motivated and the less likely they are to do what you are actually paying them to do: recruit and sell your company on your behalf. What these firms will do is send you un-vetted/minimally vetted candidates in their existing database/inventory and hope something sticks. Some of the less professional/less reputable firms out there will even send you resumes of candidates from whom they have not received permission to do so. If you engage one of these less reputable recruiting firms then your employment brand to prospective top candidates is hurt by your association with that less reputable firm.


 3) Beware of Concentrating On Nominal Fees Rather Than The Value To Be Delivered

Like most products and services in this world, in recruiting you often get what you pay for. If you are only willing to pay the lowest fees, provide the recruiting firms only the most limited interaction with your company, and only the most minimal information about your company and the job opening, then you should not be surprised if you do not receive high level service and, ultimately, high level candidates. Many companies make the mistake of forcing all recruiting firms, as the price of even discussing engaging them on a search, to agree up front to what fees will be paid for a successful placement.


 4) Try To Find And Procure Recruiting Firms that Can Be A True Prospective Strategic Partner To Your Business

Many companies fail to take into account the many free services they can receive from top recruiting firms regardless of whether or not a successful placement is made. A good recruiting firm, among other things, can provide market intelligence, insight and feedback from individual candidates (things candidates would never tell you directly or openly), and assistance in making sure a candidate is properly closed on an offer. Many companies not only are not welcoming of these free value-added services, they are downright hostile and dismissive of them. These companies simply view recruiting firms as sources of additional resumes for a job opening. Many individual recruiters and recruiting firms are willing to work under this type of transactional relationship, but what they do not have is a vested interest in the success of your candidate search or the long-term success of your company. To them, you are merely a source of fees; an indefinite source of fees at that (if you have not retained them). Therefore, recruiting firms will not be motivated to fully guide you and assist you throughout the search process. Recruiting firms merely will be motivated to send you candidates they come across and/or have in their database and hope to collect a fee.


 5) It Is Important To Clearly Define What Constitutes "Success" When Working With Recruiting Firms

 It seems obvious to many companies that success can simply be defined as a recruiting firm finding and submitting a candidate the company ultimately hires. While this may technically be true, it also fails to take into account the long-term goals the hiring manager and the company has for the person that was hired. A company should clearly define to recruiting firms not only the traits and qualifications they are targeting, but what they actually desire for the person hired to achieve in the coming months and years. This can make the difference in helping the search firm merely finding a minimally acceptable hire for your company compared to the best prospective hire for your company. If you cannot articulate to a recruiting firm what constitutes a successful long-term hire then it makes it exceedingly difficult for the recruiting firm to find one for you.


 6) It Can Be Very Helpful To Invite The Recruiting Firm To Come On-Site And Meet With The Hiring Managers

Amongst other things a good recruiting firm does for you, being a brand ambassador for your company in general and the hiring manager specifically, as a prospective employer, is one of the most important services they provide. If your company wishes to engage a recruiting firm, you presumably wish for them to be salesman on your behalf to those top non-active candidates you would not otherwise find or recruit on your own via job boards or a Linkedin message. That being the case, it can help the recruiting firm tremendously if they know what they are actually selling. Inviting the recruiting firm to come on-site, meet the hiring manager and his team, and receive a quick tour of your offices can make the recruiting firms you work with better employment brand ambassadors on your behalf, and therefore better able to find and attract better talent on your behalf.


 7) The Hiring Manager Should Be Heavily Involved Throughout The Search Process

This is a top issue at many large firms that outsource the entire recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process to the human resource department with minimal input from the hiring manager. Many of the other issues on this list involve not enough set policies, procedures, methodologies, etc. to procuring human talent; this one is the mistake of too rigid a policy. The end-user (i.e. the hiring manager) of any product or service a company procures should be heavily involved throughout the entire process. HR, the hiring manager, and the hiring manager's department must all be aligned with the strategic goals of the hire. Too often and at too many companies, HR is focused entirely on costs of the hire, while hiring managers are focused solely on the quality of the hire without taking costs or corporate hiring policies into account. Outsourcing the entire candidate search and offer process to human resources can result in faulty or outdated job descriptions that fail to attract the proper pool of candidates. Additionally, without hiring manager input or supervision of the process erroneous or even entirely false information could relayed to recruiting firms engaged on the search. Nothing discourages top candidates from considering joining a company more than feeling they are misled and/or a company does not know what they are doing. Human resources, the hiring manager and his department, and the recruiting firms all need to be in contact, involved, and aligned throughout the search process.


 8) Make Sure To Commit To Making An External Hire Before Engaging Recruiting Firms

Nothing discourages recruiting firms from working hard on your behalf or agreeing to work with you at all, if you gain a reputation as a company that will go through an entire search and interview process only to go with an internal hire at the end or decide that you really don't need to hire anyone at all. If you want recruiting firms to work on a contingent basis and you want them to truly cover the market and sell candidates on your behalf, the least you can do as a client and employer is evaluate all prospective internal candidates and make a 100% commitment to hire an external candidate before engaging a recruiting firm and having them spend many hours researching, recruiting, and screening candidates on your behalf.


 9) It Is Important To Have Reasonable Expectations For Recruiting Firms

 It is completely fair for a company to ask for a higher quality of candidates from recruiting firms in order to justify their fees. However, it is not fair or reasonable for a company to expect recruiting firms to be a miracle worker. In the 2004 movie "Miracle" Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) famously said to his Assistant Coach "I am not looking for the best players, I am looking for the right ones". If you are not a top employer, if you do not pay top money, if you are not in a top/desirable geographic region or a top location/desirable location within that region, and/or if you do not have top culture or career advancement opportunities then you will have limited ability to attract top talent and therefore you should not demand a recruiting firm to do as much. What you can and have every right to expect from a search firm if you are an employer like this is for them to find the "best fit" for you. Just like in the dating world there is a right person for everyone, there is a right candidate for every job and company out there, just not necessarily the best candidates overall who nonetheless are indeed the best fit for you. It is important to be realistic in your expectations of the type of candidates you will be able to attract. If your competition has a better reputation than you, has a bigger budget than you (for salaries, etc), and provides better long term career prospects and benefits than you, then it will be nearly impossible for a recruiting firm to successfully poach the top talent you want from your competition.


10) Do Not Let Recruiting Firms Post Advertisements Online That Compete Directly With Your Own Job Postings

This error is more on the recruiting firms you engage than on you and your company, but if you allow a search firm you have engaged to do this then you are prospectively paying them a fee to compete against you for active candidates you would find/attract on your own. Most reputable and experienced recruiters will ask you about what advertising mediums you are using. You are paying a recruiting firm to recruit, if they are posting job advertisements on the same job boards you are using then they are not only repeating what you are doing on your own, they are competing against you. Why would you be willing to pay a fee, any fee, to such a company? This goes back to Mistake #3 re: nominal fees. You may have gotten a lower nominal fee from these firms, but what you actually got was 0-10% level service for which you are actually paying 20-25% fee if you hire one of their candidates. It is important you set strict guidelines to the recruiting firm as to what search tactics will and will not be allowed in order for them to collect a fee.


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