The Blog

Six Things to Consider When Selecting an Executive Search Firm

Many thanks to our guest blogger Ken Vancini, former President and Founder of ZRG Partners, Inc., a global executive search and human management firm. He is a thought leader in the world of staffing, recruiting and leadership development. Read more about Ken.  

With the tight market for senior talent, companies continue to engage executive search firms when hiring for critical roles. Being charged with leading organizations or executing key strategies, senior employees matter a great deal to an organization, its leadership team, board and investors. These hires can make a real difference in a company’s performance.

To hire the best available leader, the board and team need a trusted, expert partner who can develop a search strategy based on the unique culture, nuances and dynamics of their organization.

But, how do you find the right partner? Selecting an executive search consultant is as critical as hiring the right candidate. Here are six areas to consider when identifying the firm that will best meet your needs.

1. Industry Knowledge

The first thing an executive search consultant should be is a trusted advisor. That means you’re looking for someone who has deep knowledge of your industry, but who also recognizes each organization has a unique culture. 

A good consultant will do their homework before they accept an engagement. Before they come to the table, they’ll have thoroughly explored your priorities and business goals, as well as the challenges you face both internally and externally.

2. Track Record

Of course, you want to look at the consultant’s body of work – the successful searches they’ve conducted, especially in your industry. Be sure to understand not only how the firm completed its previous projects, but also how the selected candidates ultimately succeeded in their roles.

For example, it’s great if they recruited a high-profile executive to run a brand-name corporation. But, the real test is whether that executive succeeded in their mission to streamline operations, launch new products and grow the company. If the new CEO only lasted a year or two and firm’s stock price sank all the while, I wouldn’t call that a successful search.

3. Search Process and Innovative Thinking

Some firms develop innovative tools to help them evaluate executives. Others apply their street smarts and experience to tailor their efforts to the needs of each client. However they approach it, a good consultant understands executive recruitment isn’t just about “having a good Rolodex.” It’s about finding the right fit.

Successful executive recruiters must understand how to translate an interview into an assessment of how a candidate will perform within the dynamics of your organization. They know how to interview in a way that gets to the heart of a candidate’s overall fit and can present you with a clear picture of whether a candidate can successfully face the challenges in store for them. 

They also understand the process will differ for each company; your business has to be sold to candidates in a way that matches its culture, brand and vision.  

4. Speed of Delivery

No credible firm is going to guarantee they’ll find you the perfect candidate within a specific time frame. But, it’s wise to get a sense of how long the consultant typically takes to complete a successful engagement and factor that into your decision-making. Finding the right leader takes time, but you don’t want to be paralyzed by indecision either. A good consultant knows how to balance time pressures with thoughtful process, and the results will be evident in their past performance. 

5. Firm Reputation

While any credible firm has references to share, most industries are, in a sense, communities of their own. Chances are you can network your way to someone who’s worked with the consultant in the past and can give you an unbiased view of their effectiveness and how their relationship developed.

Beyond that, some people are simply known in an industry as being an expert in the field. The consultant you’re looking for is one of these. Even if their firm may have a stronger brand in another industry, the team you work with may be well versed in your business. So take both a holistic and a narrow view here; is the firm known as a performer, and does your team have the right expertise to deliver on their commitments? 

6. Price and Terms

As self-serving as it may sound, this should be the least important of your considerations. Of course, you want all the firms you’re looking at to propose fees and terms within a consistent range, but don’t let the lowest bid be your deciding factor. The most expensive decision you can make is to hire the wrong consultant.

A good executive recruiter will ask an insider’s questions and be more interested in discussing the possibilities of your search than insisting that you sit through their PowerPoint presentation. It should be clear your search consultant is working hard to understand your company’s values and approach to decision-making. Only then will they be able to find the best match for the role and the company.