Don’t Hire a Search Firm Until You Read This!

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Jun 19, 2018

A while ago I was invited to pitch to a group of investors on behalf of a potential client: a Series B Silicon Valley startup. Our job, as their recruiting partner, was to convey to the investor that hiring 200 employees (mostly engineers) was doable within 6 months (by Dec 2018). In short, it was an interview. The investors wanted to confirm that the startup had a scaling program in place and a sound recruitment strategy that fundamentally aligned with product and program deliverables tied to their financing.

We did our part. The startup came to terms and closed their Series C funding round.

I couldn’t help but think, “Why aren’t other companies doing this? Why aren’t companies interviewing their recruitment partners?” Most agencies get lucky. They call or email you at the time you happen to be in pain and you sign their terms. Most of the time, you don’t even meet them in person.

In this article, my goal is to provide a few guidelines which should be considered when selecting a recruitment partner. This is important for any company seeking to scale. Heck, this is important for any company looking to remain competitive in today’s talent acquisition ecosystem.

When things go wrong, who complains the most? —  Your hiring managers do. So why not get them involved? Make it a team decision – just like any other critical hiring decision. Before signing our partnership terms, the head of HR at Evelozcity, Elise Stribos, sat me down with her engineering leadership team and had me interview with them. Those guys were no joke; most were Elon Musk’s alumnus. The IQ in that room was through the roof. Even their CTO showed up for a few minutes. Getting me in the room with the hiring managers was precisely the right thing for Elise to do. Hiring managers are the ones being serviced, so it is logical to get them involved.

Use Elon’s favorite question“Tell me about the most difficult search you’ve completed. What is the most intricate problem they’ve solved?” The answer should impress you. It should speak to the level of complexity of their past search projects, the industries they’ve served, and their recruiting thinking principles. Why was it a difficult search? What was their process? What was the outcome? Of course, the outcome must be validated by looking up their placement.

Have them pitch to you… live! — Ask, “How would you pitch our company? Let’s pretend I take your phone call as a candidate. Give me an overview of our company, and give me a short pitch on what you know about our company.” This is a really cool test – try it. By the time any recruiting partner is able to get 10 minutes of your time, they should know plenty about your company. We do! We walk in to meetings with notes, notes, and more notes.

What is their network like? — What training or industry events do the recruiting partners attend? Who do they know? My team is expected to allot 25 hours per year to industry training or events – TechCrunch, LinkedIn Connect, webinars, manufacturing summits, etc. These events are valuable for recruiters; their participation in them (or lack of) speaks to how involved they are with the evolving industry they support.

Test them — Give them a problem to solve. Give them a requisition and ask them to come back with 3 to 5 profiles of candidates they think might fit the role you provided. Test their domain expertise and how well they know your needs. If they don’t impress you with the profiles they share, they are not right for the job.

More Elon Musk — Here’s a fun question for a potential partner: “If LinkedIn did not exist, how would you approach search?” Look for creativity here. Elon hired his SpaceX lieutenants without LinkedIn Recruiter. He researched a directory of Stanford’s upcoming grads, got in touch with them, offered them internships, and then hired them. By the way, he only called the most impressive graduates. He inquired and ran references with their professors before reaching out to them. This is true search. This is the kind of creativity you ought to look for with a recruitment firm that desires to support you.

Their process — Simply ask, “What will your recruitment process be from the moment I hand you a new requisition?” Unfortunately, most firms won’t have a systemic approach towards search assignments. But good firms do. Look for those firms.

Actionable talent data and reportingThis is so important these days. A good firm acts as a partner. They use data to drive recalibrations and recommend new ideas on search assignments. For us, the utilization of data has often shifted salary bands to more accurate market ranges, or at times data has opened the opportunity to explore candidates out of state when that wasn’t initially an option. Data is powerful. A good firm should talk data, always.

References — Think about it, isn’t this the best tool? You should ask, “Can I speak with 2 or 3 of your current clients about your work?” If you’re going to do one thing on this list, do this one! The best and most accurate references for any recruiting partner are existing clients. If they can’t produce references, it’s not a good sign.

Domain expertise — The days of general staffing recruiters are long gone. Hire recruitment experts that know your space, your competitors, and your industry, in general. Any recruiting partner that can deliver fast and effectively will have domain expertise. Smart companies hire smart and partner smart. Be one of those companies. Recruitment partnerships have never been more important than today – this is true for all sizes, and all industries. Be selective and partner intelligently. It’s time to start engaging outside recruitment firms proactively.

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