How to choose, and use, a recruiter to find your next employee

By Connie Hampton
Hampton & Associates, Scientific & Executive Search Services

No company hires unless they have a problem that can’t be solved by the people they already have working.

handshake15The boss may try to solve it him/herself but finds that he/she simply does not have the time to do it, so he asks his people. They may say, “which if these other priorities shall we downgrade in order to solve this one?” And the boss may decide that those are all important as well and find that the group simply does not have the man-hours available, even though they have the skills. Or it may be that the problem requires skills that the team simply does not have and they don’t have the time to acquire them.

So the boss thinks about who he knows who might be right for the role, but does not know anyone – he has already hired all the people he knows who can do the jobs he needs to have done.

So the boss asks his people, “Who do you know?”

About 85% of all jobs, from individual contributor to CEO are filled this way.

If the team doesn’t know the right people (or they are all tapped out), then the hiring manager asks the office manager or the HR person to post the job on the company website and possibly other sites such as prime jobs for example. The HR person writes up the job description and posts it. The job gets picked up by spiders and web scrapers and posted all over the place. Many (or few) people respond. Most are not really a fit, but 10-20% of jobs get filled this way.

Contingency search firms, whom you may or may not have worked with before, may pick up the posting and contact you with possible candidates who may or may not be a fit.

Or you may choose, for reasons I’ll describe below, to hire a retained executive search firm.

So how do you choose a recruiter?

A search for someone to fill your open position is not rocket science, but it requires time and effort and using a well-thought-out and creative method. This will yield a number of people who are ready, willing and able to talk with you about the role, have the skills you need and are interested in working for your company.

The first step is to have an excellent description of the skills and person you need, written in such a way as to entice this person to consider changing his/her life to come and do the job you need to have done. You need this if you are posting the job or if you are using a recruiter. You might want to get your marketing people to help write the description about what is great about your company and what is great about the job. This would greatly improve your posting results as well as shorten the time it takes for a recruiter to fill the role. A recruiter can help you write the position description if you need it.

The next step is to get this excellent and exciting information to the right people – people who are either already doing the job for one of your competitors or possibly one of your industry’s vendors or clients or who may be working for this person and ready to step up. It may be that the job is in a function that does not require quite the industry knowledge that another function might. Then it may be a matter of geography. But you still need to have the right people know about your opening. Where are they? Who are they? How can you get this information directly to them? These are the tasks of a recruiter.

The last step is to get the right people who are interested to meet with you, decide which one you think can do the job best and get them hired.

There are different kinds of recruiters and they have different levels of experience in your industry and different ways of working.

The contingency people will only be paid if you hire the person they present. This puts all the risk on them to find you the right person but also means that they will not put a great deal of time and effort on any one position – they compete with their fellow contingency people for the right people and for the quickest placement, so if your opening is not “hot” and they don’t have the contacts already in hand, they may simply “pass” on the search.

Retained search people will expect to be the only search firm working on your open position, will be paid a retainer and will guarantee to work on your search, will pre-interview and then present you with a small number of candidates, walking you through the interview process and helping you with salary negotiations, relocation and “on-boarding”. They will guarantee the placement for up to a year, doing it over if the person you hire leaves within a certain amount of time.

There are also unbundled or modular scientific and executive search services firms who will do all of the work of retained search firms up to the point of presenting you with all of the qualified, interested candidates. They will also present you with all of the “who is where and what do they think” data that they develop in the course of the search.

Some companies think that they can just hand a recruiter (contingency or retained) the job description developed in-house for compensation or performance review purposes and expect to receive the “right person” with no other input. This can seriously slow down the process and may result in less than satisfactory results in the end.

The more thought and work you put into the front end of the search, the quicker the process and the better fit you will have in the end.

How to find the right recruiter:

  • Decide how quickly and urgently you need this hire
    It takes 3 minutes to cook a 3 minute egg
  • Decide what you need to have this soon-to-be-hired person do and why
  • Decide what the title and compensation will be
  • Decide if you can afford to relocate this person
  • Decide if you will ever hire someone with any of these qualities again or if the information from this search might be useful to another part of your company (sales, procurement, etc.)
  • Decide what you can pay for this process and what guarantees you need.

For candidates at the individual contributor level who do not have very specialized skills or if you problem is lack of man-hours, post on your website and locally (craigslist) and/or work with a temp to perm staffing firm, developing your relationship with them so that you can trust their knowledge of who you are and what sorts of people you need. Or respond to contingency search people who call based on your postings, again making sure that the search person understands exactly what you need.

For specialized individual contributors and management decide between contingency recruiters, modular search services or retained firms.

  • Choose a firm which works in your industry, or often enough in spotthedifferenceone close enough to yours, that you feel comfortable with their ability to grasp the structure and problems of companies in your niche.
  • Decide how much attention you need on the search for your open position. If you want exclusive attention and extensive support choose modular search services or retained.
  • Understand the scope of work and guarantees you will get from your recruiter.

If you choose contingency – do choose someone who has found the same title recently so that his/her network is still usable as the most successful contingency firms rely on their networks.

If you choose retained or modular search services, they do not have to have found the exact person you are looking for as recently as contingency because their method will account for that. But they do need to know your industry and who your main competitors, vendors and clients are.

How to work with the recruiter you choose:

  • Having the hiring manager and the HR person meet with the recruiter or search researcher for 20 minutes to an hour, either in person or by phone, individually or together, at the start of the search will allow the search to be well focused.
  • Go over exactly what you need, both the required skills and the “soft skills” and “fit”, as well as what you expect this person will do for you in the first year and what the problem is that you want this person to solve.
  • Click here to get an outline of the questions a recruiter should ask you.
  • Knowing and telling your recruiter who your closest competitors are, which vendors and customers may have the right people will jump start the process.
  • Agree on the deliverables, fees, and timing.
  • Decide how many qualified resumes you want to see and how long you want the position to remain open.
  • Commit to reviewing the resumes as they come in and to giving timely feedback.
  • Commit to an interview time frame.

The fees for contingency and retained searches are somewhere between 20 and 33 1/3% of the annual compensation (including incentives) of the person hired. Search services fees are usually less than half of that.

Please do contact Hampton & Associates, Scientific & Executive Search Services for searches in the Bioindustries – Life Sciences, Diagnostics, Therapeutics (both Biopharma and Pharmaceuticals) or Medical Devices when you need that extra bit of manpower.


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