I’ve been in the retained recruiting industry for nearly two decades, with a four-year stint in the middle as an internal director of talent at a management consulting firm, so my knowledge is primarily based on the point of view of an outsourced recruiter. What’s more, my professional advice is relevant to most companies, but not all.
At Sudduth Search, our clients are generally investor-backed companies in the lower and middle market. Most are startups— both early-stage and large but all are growing rapidly—and we mainly search for director to C-level executives. And just like not all companies are the same, not all recruiters are either. I don’t believe there is a “plug and play” one size fits all recruiter; you need to find one that works for you and your culture. That being said, there are indeed ways to ensure you ARE getting the most out of the recruiter with whom you engage.
Ok, now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get into some real talk. How should you choose a firm and launch your search?
Get on the same page
First and foremost, make sure the recruiter you choose is the right cultural fit (a.k.a. emotionally intelligent and not a jerk). Will the recruiter represent your company and ethos well? If you’re put off by the recruiter’s sales tactics, or the recruiter regularly isn’t prepared, they’ll likely treat your search the same way. If YOU wouldn’t hang out with your recruiter outside of work, chances are your best candidates won’t want to talk with them either.
Expertise is key
Can the recruiter explain the process they follow, step-by-step? Recruiting isn’t luck. The best results come from following a proven process, being diligent, and detail-oriented. If your recruiter is “winging it,” and pushing candidates they already know, that’s not what you need. Heck, you could do that yourself and save a lot on fees. Have them walk you through their specific strategy so you know they aren’t just hoping to find the resume you’ll like.
Know your niche
Let’s also touch on recruiters with a specialty focus, something I get asked about more often than anything. Here’s what some of my prospective clients say: “We want someone who specializes in purple unicorns from the rainbow ranch industry.” For comparison sake, when you hire a lawyer, do you limit your search to ONLY those who work with purple unicorns from said industry? No, because we all know there could be a conflict of interest with competitors. Plus, if an attorney knows the law and how to apply it, it shouldn’t matter if they have a narrow focus. Similarly, if a recruiter specializes in exactly what your company does, or what the related position is for, their focus will be very narrow, making it difficult not to trip over past (or current) clients during the process. And it’s always possible your recruiter will be looking to poach from your team when they’re done with you. If a recruiter knows how to recruit for a multitude of positions within various industries, their methodology is probably what makes them successful; they’re not just spinning a rolodex, hoping it lands on the right candidate (and yes, I know I just aged myself).
Once you’ve chosen your recruiting firm, let’s talk about how to maximize their value:
- Your recruiter should provide you more than just fodder and a resume for the recommended candidates. An important part of the process needs to include the recruiter giving you a thorough overview, analysis and opinion of the candidate. Answers to questions such as: What is their motivation for changing jobs? Why are they interested in your position? Why have they had a short tenure? How much revenue do they manage? You need to understand the candidate’s motivation for entertaining a new position and any gaps between jobs or questionable moves should be addressed. My hope is that my clients can forgo the boring interview questions and get straight to the meat of whether they like the person, and believe that particular candidate will be successful in the role and an asset to the team.
- Your recruiter should scour the market without just focusing on people looking for a job, but also passive candidates. Most of our searches have a minimum of 50 candidates, and some have 300+. As a client, you should have the ability to see all of the candidates being considered. You’re paying for the search; you need to know that the recruiter has completed their due diligence and pursued as many leads as possible.
- Passive candidates take longer to decide if they’re interested in your open position. Give them time to go through that thought process of deciding if they are interested. If you rush the recruiter, and the candidate feels pressured, you’re probably going to miss out on some stellar talent.
- Your recruiter should be talking to the candidate all along the way, to keep them engaged and better ascertain whether the candidate is still interested and will accept an offer if given one. Nowadays, the market is a bit crazy, so you’ll never know whether the candidate is being recruited elsewhere. However, if the recruiter is doing their job, they should have a good idea whether the candidate will make it to the finish line and accept your offer.
- Weekly calls: I know, I know, you don’t need another meeting on your calendar. But trust me, this is the best way to execute a successful, efficient search. The recruiter should provide weekly updates, including challenges, feedback and progress with particular candidates that look favorable. You, as the client, should be open and communicative with your concerns, questions or otherwise.
- The recruiter should help you through the offer negotiation process to ensure there are no surprises. The last thing you want is to make an offer and then find out the candidate is entertaining three other offers. Ok, even with 20 years of experience, I sometimes get surprised. But I do everything possible to prevent that from happening. You should know exactly why the candidate wants or is willing to make a job change, from the first time you talk to them. While salary expectations can vary, you should never get to the point of offer and be shocked by the amount it will take to secure their commitment.
- So what if you are a start up, does all of this advice apply? Absolutely, because with fewer people, early leadership hires are even more critical to your ability to succeed and raise capital.Startups and early-stage companies need to think creatively when making offers. If someone is prepared to take a risk on you, they deserve to at least make the same money they did before.Or maybe you can you offer them success-based compensation, like equity or tracking stock? If the person you are hiring is not motivated by success-based compensation, then they are probably not cut out to be at a scaling company. It takes someone who is self-driven, who can see the end result and figure out how to get there. They must be willing to put their own “skin in the game” in order to see the whole company succeed. They are the type that thrives on being challenged. If they don’t, then let them go as they will likely bolt if the going gets tough and you are better off knowing that ahead of time.
I think that covers most of it. I’m probably going to make a lot of recruiters mad because I just made their jobs harder. But I believe it’s a recruiter’s responsibility to bring as much value to their clients and the recruiting process as possible, and to ultimately attract the best talent possible. And if you do need a purple unicorn from a rainbow ranch, please call Sudduth Search, we’ll find you one.
Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.