Top 3 Reasons NOT to Hire a Search Consultant


I’ve been pouring over the HR blogs since starting this blog recently and found a lot of posts with the “10 Top reasons for this” and the “Top 24 reasons for that.” So taking the lead of the various pundits on the Interweb, I’ve decided to throw in my two cents. Since it seems like all of us Executive Search folks are trying so hard to convince all the “would be” clients to trust us and become our clients, I thought I would throw them a bone.

Here are the Top 3 Reasons NOT to hire an Executive Recruiter:

1. The Internet – Let’s be honest. With the prolific tools on the internet, you can find “Active Candidates” on your own. These are people who have posted their resumes on job boards. You don’t need to pay a fee to a recruiter when they will likely be sifting the same sites that you have access to download all the recent resumes. (Which by the way is NOT what any self-respecting, competent recruiter does.)

2. Your Company’s Weak Value Proposition – Each company has a Value Proposition to offer. This consists of Products or Services, Culture, Opportunity for Growth and Compensation. If the first three are overflowing, then the compensation can be average. If these are Average, then your compensation has to be INCREASED in order to draw in the best people. If your company does not or CANNOT be flexible in the area of Base Salaries, Sign on Bonuses and other inducements to draw in the best, then go back to #1 and stick to the “Active/Internet Candidate Pool.”

3. Your Company’s Rigid View of Hiring Talent – If your management team is not sophisticated enough to know how to recruit and interview people who are NOT actively seeking a new job, then you will Turn Away the best people and waste a ton of time. Sometimes it isn’t the management team’s fault. There are some companies where the HR Dept. dictates the hiring process to the management. As the government continues to heap on more regulation, it puts a legal burden on companies to enforce compliance of “great-hire killing” policies. This is a big turn off to a lot of talented people who see that their new job, were they to accept, would be frustrated by these same policies.

So, if you are a corporate HR or Hiring Manager and have been frustrated by the inability to execute searches effectively by hiring extraordinary people who have long-term staying power, then you are beginning to understand that to win the War for Talent, you have to be flexible and creative. You must tailor your recruiting approach to the individual prospects that you desire to hire, rather than making them fit into your little box.

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12 thoughts on “Top 3 Reasons NOT to Hire a Search Consultant

  1. Interesting perspective: “You don’t need to pay a fee to a recruiter when they will likely be sifting the same sites that you have access to download all the recent resumes. (Which by the way is NOT what any self-respecting, competent recruiter does.)”

    Well this self-respecting does use these tools – and why not? If it’s quicker to build a relevant network using modern technology, then why not? It’s not the only way to skin a cat, but if it works, then use it.

    The value I bring is in having the time to engage senior candidates in a process they find motivating. They are much more visible now, and probably being found more often, so the way they are handled is critical in getting the best candidates to your clients table.

    I’ve written on my own blog that a candidates LinkedIn profile is probably more important than their resume/CV. I’m going to guess you disagree.

    Merry Christmas from the UK. (Sorry, can’t bring myself to say “Happy Holiday”)

  2. Martin, Thanks for your comment. My point about the internet is about the Monsters, Careerbuilders and other job boards. This is where companies look for “Active Candidates,” because they are not skilled in attracting or hiring “Passive Candidates.” Linkedin is a great tool, but it requires that you have some skill in recruiting. Most HR types are not able to draw people into the interview process and if they do, they will usually be confounded by the lack of energy and enthusiasm of these candidates compared to the ones that they find actively searching for new employment. I also understand from working with a UK partner that you guys have it pretty rough over there. Is it true that the usual fee is 20% or “flat” and always contingency?

    • Thanks for coming back to me. That makes sense.

      As far as the UK is concerned, it’s certainly tough, but I’m not sure that it’s much harder than anywhere else. I’m having to keep my pencil sharp, but I’m managing to hang on to 20% + and convert that to a flat price so we all know where we stand. I’m still getting a retainer and walk away where I can’t get one as I always get less support from the client if I don’t have their interest and motivation. I used to get 33% all the time, but am having to flex that back to something like 25%.

      Not sure if that’s shared by others around me. How’s it working in your neck of the woods?

      • It is interesting here in the US. We usually don’t have a problem getting 33% of total compensation, after we educate them. I say that because if they are not willing to pay this, it is generally a “deal breaker for us.” However, there are a tremendous number of “scavenger recruiters,” who are desperate enough to take whatever they can get a signed agreement on. As you said, the support you get from a “client” is always terrible, and in our opinion unacceptable, unless they put “skin in the game.” It is truly one of our litmus tests to determine if we accept the search or move on. I’ve never been sorry for turning down a search, while I have many, many regrets for accepting a bad search with a bad client. I am still an ardent supporter of the concept of letting HR departments source their own active candidates and only hiring a recruiter after that effort has failed. The caveat being in smaller companies that don’t have HR support, they may need a total solution from the outset.

        Merry CHRISTmas to you and yours as well.

  3. I have been in senior level retained search for 16 years and this is very well said. Essentially, don’t hire me if, for whatever reason, the best you can hope to recruit is an active job seeker. You should be able to find and recruit those people without paying my fee. And, I would rather you not pay my fee and waste everyone’s time if you expect to recruit great talent without being both flexible and a true partner in recruiting it.

  4. I work in a contingency firm, and my recruiters say they don’t want to call in to businesses trying to pull people away from their jobs. The mindset to them is that its intrusive. What are some other ways of getting the best candidates, and how do I show them the value in pulling the better fruit when they’ve been working the low hanging fruit for so long? They are content on the whole contingency mindset.

    • Ladd, There are a lot of reasons that your colleagues don’t want to go and recruit the best people who are very happy where they are. The main point is that on contingency, it doesn’t pay which of course is why I’m convinced it is the wrong method for my clients. Candidates who are motivated to find new work have many hidden agendas that cannot be fully known. Contingency recruiters tend not to be strong enough to convey the flaws of the system and propose a better way to their clients. Thus they must resort to the “low hanging fruit.”

      My advice to you is not to waste your time trying to show them a better way. Elevate your own practice to a level that speaks for you. Rather than telling them where to take their businesses, lead the way and let your actions speak.

      • Drue, when you finally made the decision to stop doing Contingency Searches and do strictly Retainers. Did you migrate your current Clients to Retainer, or did you finish up what you could and move on?

        • Great question! I did not migrate my clients into retained. I could not convince them that it was in their best interests because I did high quality contingency work with clients who valued my work. I just couldn’t escape all the unintended consequences that undermined my income and well being. How I made the switch was by having so much contingency search work that I couldn’t take anymore. The only new searches I would add would be on retainer. I’ve never looked back and enjoyed an increasingly elevated practice of higher profile searches and higher fees.

  5. I have people telling me contingency based searches are fine as long as you have the exclusive, and sometimes its not always worth while to obligate yourself to a client if you learn something down the road you don’t agree with you have the option to walk away. Would you say an exclusive search is just as valuable as a retainer? Why or Why not?

    • They are right that you have to be very selective and thorough in the vetting of the client before accepting a search. Anyone willing to pay a retainer isn’t necessarily a good client. The difference to me is that I get my full fee on every search I do, subsequently I can afford to do exceptional work in every search. Contingency recruiters are lucky to get paid on 30% of their searches and the average is around 20%. This just means that most of your work goes unrewarded and the overall quality and longevity of your work is compromised. I am able to go deep into a market and deliver superb people with extensive experience and tenure. I contend that more often than not, those people are far better and more committed than those who have shorter tenures and are more mobile with 2-4 years at each company. My most recent placement was a SVP Engineering for a Robotic Ankle company. The ultimate hire had more than 15 years at his prior company and when he had his first “exploratory conversation” with the CEO was only 10% interested by his own admission. I heard from the CEO last week saying that he was “exactly what they needed and making huge strides already.” This is quite typical because this type of person is very engaged in their company. There are always exceptions, but when you play in the world of the active candidate, there is a greater risk of a bad hire. It is my responsibility to mitigate the risks that my clients in any way I can, even if it makes it a tougher search.

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