Five Overlooked Questions to Ask Executive Search Firms

October 7, 2019 - 07:10:00 PM
Five Overlooked Questions to Ask Executive Search Firms

When hiring an executive search firms everyone always focuses on the recruiter’s background and experience. While these are important topics many people overlook some basic questions that can reveal potential issues. Here are five areas that you should explore when deciding on which executive search firm is right for your organization.

First, ask about how the firm reaches potential applicants. Executive search firms should be able to explain how they attract a diverse but highly qualified applicant pool. Look for firms that mention that they exploit the latest technologic gains in the job search industry enabling them to both broadly advertise your opening cheaply while focusing the majority of the advertising budget on niche markets that are directly related to the opening. Additionally, executive search firms should be actively identifying and reaching out to passive candidates. However, outreach to passive candidates should extend beyond just mining their internal database. Ask potential executive search firms how the exploit online databases to reach applicants. During your conversation feel free to inquire on approximately how many applicants the executive search firm expects for your open position. However, you should beware of executive search firms that focus on just the number aspect of the question. Instead, look for responses that demonstrate that the firm focuses on finding high quality candidates and not as many applicants as possible.

Second, ask about how the firm assesses applicants? Be on the lookout for firms that just review resumes and conduct interviews. The executive search process has involved and includes quantitative assessments and extensive reference checks. During your conversation, be sure to ask how the firm translates interview responses into numerical scores. Examine the firm’s to transcend the art of recruitment and translate the search results into scientific and quantitative results. Firms that focus on the science of recruiting produce better short listed candidates because such actions prevent hidden bias.

Third, ask about how the firm has integrated technology into their search process. A red flag is a search process that requires applicants to send their materials via email to a recruiter who then prints out the materials and reviews them by hand. Every reputable executive search firm will have applicants apply online, via their job portal, which captures and stores all applicant materials in their applicant management or tacking system. Firms without an integrated system will not be able to handle the volume of applicants that one usually finds in a successful search. Quality applicants will be overlooked or their materials will be mistakenly lost. Unrelated to the actual system that a firm may use, the presence of an integrated applicant management system also informs the client that the firm has remained up-to-date on changes in the recruiting environment and keep up with changes in technology is a good indicator that the firm has keep up with other non-technology related changes and advancements.

Fourth, ask about previous clients. This sounds counterintuitive, but if executive search firms provide you with a list of previous candidates beware. Either, this is a list of cherry picked candidates that will give glowing reviews based on their relationship with the search firm or be prepared to receive never-ending phone calls from future potential clients. Most organizations, prepare to be discreet about their relationship with an executive search firm, as they do not want investors, donors or other interested parties knowing about the search for political or financial reasons. Make sure that executive search firms include a non-disclosure statement in their contract and that they will never use your organization’s name or trademarks in their marketing to other potential applicants.

Finally, make sure that the executive search firm that you select has a focus in your industry. For example if you are a nonprofit organization, it is better to retain a medium size firm that works only with nonprofit clients over an international firm with a better brand name that mainly works with corporate clients. You will greatly increase the likelihood of finding an excellent candidate for your open position if you work with a firm that is experience in your field. Not only will the recruiter have more contacts within your industry, she will be able to identify the personality characteristics that are vital for success in your industry.

If you use the above five questions when interviewing executive search firms you will not only find the right firm for your organization but you will greatly increase your chances of finding the right candidate for your opening.

Learn more about how Baccaray Plummer & Associates is leading the executive search industry with its marketing and outreach, quantitative assessments, integrated technology, privacy guarantees and focus on nonprofit clients at

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