Q: What should I ask before retaining an executive search firm?
A: (from Stephanie J. Underwood, Sr. Vice President) Great question. Let me start with a question that I don’t think you should ask but I often hear: "How many other [desired position title] searches have you done?"
That’s not a great question because it simply doesn’t matter. Every search, every client, every position is unique. If you are about to launch a search for a Vice President of Human Resources, e.g., the fact that I’ve done 15 other VPHR searches wouldn’t hurt, but yours would be a unique search. Timing and market trends also have a tremendous impact on the candidate pool for each search.
A better general question would be, "How would you approach this particular search for us?" When I hear this question, it allows me to start probing. I ask for details about the position, including how it will fit within the structure of the organization.
It’s also imperative to talk about compensation up front. If the organization’s expectations for salary range and other components of compensation aren’t in line with what the position demands, then I know I won’t be able to find the kind of candidates the organization wants in the long run. Agreement on these types of factors makes the search "doable."
This is all to say that for me to successfully lead a search, I must understand the culture of the organization. This is infinitely more important to the success of a search than the number of other similar searches I might have led. For new clients, this process begins with this initial phone call, and my education continues through research, the site visit and future discussions. Once I’ve worked with an organization for a while, I know the culture so well I become a trusted advisor — able to consult on a wider range of organizational issues. When a long-term client asks how I would approach a new search, we can hit the ground running!
Reach Stephanie J. Underwood, Sr. Vice President, at +1 610 558 6100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are more questions to consider, especially if you are using an RFP process.