7 tips for identifying a quality executive search firm

Companies that want to work with executive placement firms should keep an eye out for these elements.

Companies turn to executive search consultants with the expectation of tapping into a valuable, efficient, knowledgeable and well-connected resource. The ultimate goal is to identify quality candidates with the skills each individual enterprise is looking for, but other elements, such as cultural fit, are important as well.

“When a company engages an executive search firm to help identify and recruit senior talent, the firm’s approach and response to the market can either benefit or hinder the brand,” noted Globe and Mail Leadership Lab contributor Richard Wajs in a recent article he penned for the news source.

“Organizations should look for certain elements in a quality executive search firm.”

Wajs identified a number of elements that organizations should look for in a quality executive placement firm if they’re serious about onboarding experienced, skilled executives who are compatible with their corporate culture:

1. A significant – yet efficient – time investment
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was an executive recruiting company’s thorough understanding of a client’s wants and needs. In any type of relationship, it takes time to get to know the other party, and firms that are interested in doing the best job they possibly can will be sure to avoid rushing the process. That said, this thoroughness should not come at the expense of efficiency.

“An inefficient recruitment process can lead to frustrated candidates, which in turn can damage the brand,” Wajs observed.

2. A solid foundation of research
Part of the time investment mentioned above should be dedicated to research so the firm can assess whether potential candidates have what the client is looking for. This not only ensures that the client has a viable list of options from which to choose, but it also protects against wasting the time of executives who aren’t a good fit. Time-wasting can paint the client in a negative light and could even end up harming the brand’s reputation and burning future employment bridges down the road.

3. A strong focus on discretion
Confidentiality is a key part of the executive search and recruitment process. As Caldwell Partners noted in a 2014 white paper that detailed the benefits of partnering with an executive search firm, many candidates are looking to keep their conversations with search consultants quiet, motivated by the desire to avoid being tagged as “looking” in the market. With this in mind, discretion is extremely important, and breaking a candidate’s confidence is something that quality search firms avoid at all costs.

4. A capacity to communicate clearly and in a timely manner
In the professional world, few things are more frustrating than trying to decipher vague, ambiguous correspondence or having to chase people to deliver their part of a project. Executive recruiting firms are supposed to make life easier for the companies they work with, not harder. This means communicating clearly and in a timely manner, pushing processes forward rather than holding them up.

Timeliness is an important aspect of professionalism.Timeliness is an important aspect of professionalism.

5. A well-structured interview process
Although building a solid foundation of research is a critical part of a successful executive search initiative, it should be regarded as just that – a foundation. It’s the interview process that will truly determine whether a candidate is a good match for a company, so a quality placement firm should take this stage very seriously. In fact, our 2014 white paper pointed out that some consultants use sophisticated approaches such as behavior-based interview techniques and psychometric evaluations to get as much insight into prospects as they can.

“A candidate who doesn’t make the final cut should still walk away having benefited from the experience.”

6. An emphasis on building relationships
Even if a candidate does not end up being chosen for a particular position, he or she should still walk away having benefited from the experience. As part of the getting-to-know-you process, executive search firms and their clients learn a great deal about prospective hires, and this knowledge doesn’t expire after a position is filled – rather, they can keep the information in mind for future placement opportunities. Our white paper noted that many prospects actually end up in the running for being hired in a capacity beyond the position for which they were initially considered thanks to the professional relationships they built along the way.

7. A commitment to results
In the case of retained search firms, placements are guaranteed. This way of doing things simultaneously provides a safety net for the client and an incentive for the recruitment firm to deliver (if a placement doesn’t work out, the firm is obligated to redo its efforts at no additional charge). Such an approach holds the firm accountable and sets up the client for success.

Companies that want to work with executive placement services may not know which way to turn, but those that evaluate potential partners based on their reputations for delivering on the criteria listed above are off to a good start.

About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 45 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.