Working with an Executive Search Firm


You should be frank and open when working with a search consultant. If you are not sure you need to embark on a search, for either you wish to find out what is available in the market to measure your internal candidates against, or you have strong doubts about the availability of candidates in the market with the profile you want to bring in, say so. The search firm could provide you with or recommend a solution. For one, they could propose conducting a market study (instead of a regular search), with fees applicable to the related search if results are encouraging enough to continue with a search.


Make sure that you assign an executive in your organization to work with the firm on the search. This project manager would normally be the head of recruiting or the human resources manager. This individual should make time available to the consultant (to receive and return calls and hold discussion meetings) and be also accountable for the progress on the search. The consultant should provide progress reports on a weekly basis (as a minimum) and be given the names of possible candidates identified / referred to you by company executives, directors and external parties.


In a first meeting the project manager should share with the consultant as much information as possible on the company’s business and culture, and together develop formal specifications on the position and the candidate profile. The compensation package should also be discussed at this time, including fixed pay and incentive pay, as well as perquisites. Candidates previously considered should be reviewed (this will give additional information to the consultant on what is being sought and not in candidates), and finally, a preliminary search strategy should be discussed, to learn about potential sources and taboo companies.


Next should follow a written business (search) proposal from the consultant that includes the formal specifications on the position and the candidate profile, the professional fees and billings proposed (or agreed upon), and other terms and conditions, including guarantees and referral to any complementary services offered, if any. Some executive search companies customarily incorporate a brief background on the company that will be shared with pre-selected executives. This business proposal should be reviewed by the project manager and the awarding authority for their approval and delivery back to the executive search firm for their files. This business proposal or agreement may vary from one executive search firm to another.


Prior to the presentation of candidates, the consultant may propose one or two “sample” candidates for your early review. This is not a regular practice, but if offered, take it! for it will help the consultant to fine tune the search with more information on the competencies and cultural fit sought. Who knows? you may ask your consultant to include one of those samples as a candidate.


Executive search firms will ask for exclusivity. This ensures the reliability and the consistency of all information communicated to the outside, and avoids the dissemination of uncontrolled information. It also guarantees that prospective candidates approached are relevant to the search. You should never hire two executive search firms for the same search, although there are head hunters (executive recruiters) who will not mind. If this situation arises, you will have problems. Who will take the credit for a candidate presented by both parties? Who will follow up with that candidate?

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