Choosing Clients

I love doing Business Development, I get to talk shop with experienced professionals and find out what is driving the hiring neeeds of the market and I get to spend time with my BDM. We have a good time, my BDM and I, in deciding which clients we will be able to work with and which ones we will have to pass on. She is a bit more optimistic than me when it comes to potential clients and I am a bit more cynical than her; we make a good team. We have developed a list of key questions that we put to potential clients in order to ascertain there strengths and to find out if they would be a good business partner for us. Most of the potential clients we meet ask similar questions of us and most of them are not the right questions to be asking. Many of the younger HR managers seem to have the same sheet of questions and we get asked them so much we have a sheet of answers that they can staple to it to save them time, this seems to please them. The thing is, you can tell a lot about a person by the questions they ask, or don't. I have had the list of questions, below, for a while, it has travelled through two computers and I lost the source somewhere along the way so if you know who wrote it please let me know, if you wrote it, I hope you don't mind if I share it here. This si a list of questions you should be referencing when you choose a recruiter. These questions are going to get you some very good information while at the same time letting your potential recruiter know that you understand the business. (You will look smart! These are much better questions to ask than, for example, "how big is your database?") I hope you use them in your next meeting. 1. ARE THEY CONSULTING OR SELLING? The best executive search consultants: Do their homework on your company before they walk through your door; know the questions that potential prospects are likely to have about your organization and the position; and are prepared to discuss the position and search strategy options. If a recruiter dominates the conversation with stories of search successes, worldwide capabilities and research that "their people" will conduct to pinpoint your candidate, think twice. A recruiter like this won't know enough about your company, the position and the upside/downside of the opportunity to pitch it successfully to an executive who receives 10 other recruiting calls every week. Test the recruiter's consultative approach by asking: How would you describe our needs to a prospective client? How would you describe our culture and business? What are the hurdles in the search assignment and how can you overcome them? 2. IS WHAT YOU SEE WHAT YOU GET? Although most large and mid-sized search firms have strong placement capabilities, they also have a two-tier structure -- an upper level of partners responsible for bringing in business and a lower level of associates and researchers who actually perform the data dredging, phone calling, interviewing and qualifying of candidates. So despite your having provided a detailed description of your company culture, dynamics, management style to the partner who sells you the search -- the researchers who actually conduct the assignment rarely receive this information. The results? Candidates who match the letter -- not the spirit -- of the job description; mis-hires who don't fit your corporate culture; and poor performance down the road. Check how involved the interviewing partner will be in your assignment: What parts of the search will you personally handle? Who calls prospective candidates to qualify them? Who interviews them in person? Who analyzes the candidate and authors the official candidate "write up"? 3. WHOSE "EXPERIENCE" IS HANDLING MY ASSIGNMENT? When recruiters hear of potential new business at your company, their administrative staff shifts into high gear. They may print out an impressive list of assignments similar to yours that have been booked by the firm, packaged it between glossy covers with your corporate logo. The partner might claim extensive experience in your industry sector or functional area. But take a closer look: the list most likely represents the firm's collective experience. The recruiter himself may never have conducted a search in your industry. The searches listed in the proposal may not have been completed -- or may have taken months to complete -- and the executive placed by the search firm may have stayed only a short time. Check out a recruiter's legitimate experience: Which of these search assignments did you personally complete? How long did these searches take to complete successfully? How many of these searches resulted in hires that stayed with the client at least a year? 4. HOW IMPORTANT IS MY SEARCH TO THIS RECRUITER? Retained search consultants -- those who handle the top-level assignments -- are paid on the basis of their billings, not their successful completions. Since search assignments are "billed out" after 60 days, recruiters have little incentive to monitor the successful completion of the search assignment. There's more money to be made selling more assignments. Three years ago, a typical search firm partner conducted seven assignments at a given time. In today's overheated economy, they may conduct 15 to 20 assignments simultaneously, overwhelming their associates and research staff. Unless your search is carrying the highest fees or is relatively easy to complete, it may be shunted to the bottom of the heap. Check the recruiter's workload: How many search assignments are you currently conducting? How many searches is your support staff handling? Who's calling the shots? 5. WHAT'S THE SEARCH PROCESS? Many search firms operate on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis, convincing companies that the search process is mysterious and incomprehensible. The reality is, recruiting isn't rocket science -- but it does require focus, perseverance and attention to detail. Given the volume of business they are handing off to recruiters, human resource executives need to closely scrutinize whether focus, perseverance and attention to detail are being applied on their assignments. Many recruiters don't discuss how they conduct a search or how long it will take to find suitable candidates until the client has signed a contract. In addition, the recruiter's process may or may not suit your needs. For instance, you and your company may prefer to review candidate resumes before allowing the recruiter to spend money on personal interviews. But some search firms won't show clients any candidates until 45 days after the search begins, even though they may have a stockpile of resumes and interviews after two weeks. Some search firms will only present candidate information to clients in person, which can involve air fare, hotel and entertainment expenses. Clarify the search firm's process and timing before hiring them. How will the search be conducted -- step-by-step -- and how long will each step take? When will I see information on potential candidates? How will you communicate the number of prospects under consideration, when you are interviewing candidates and when I will interview the final slate face to face? How can you accommodate your firm's process to fit our company's needs? 6. WHO'S FOOTING THE BILLS? Many search firm contracts contain vague references to expenses. Seldom do clients question a search firm's expense billings or what they include. Even more rarely do clients realize that these expenses can add another 20 percent of the search fee -- or more. While expense billings can cover legitimate expenses like airfare and telephone charges, they can also be a rug under which secretarial salaries, subscription expenses and fax machine depreciation can be swept. Clarify your recruiter's expense procedures: What charges are included in your expense billings? Will you provide documentation? If you buy any resources for our search (CD-ROMs, special directories), will you turn them over to us when the assignment is completed? 7. WHAT'S THE COMMITMENT TO CLIENT SATISFACTION? Recruiting firm’s reward their partners for selling searches, not satisfying clients. In fact, the informal motto of several prominent search firms is, "Book 'em, bill 'em and forget 'em." If the fee for the search is fully collected, it qualifies as a successful search in many firms -- whether or not a candidate is placed. Consequently, what motivates the partner -- finding a client to bill -- runs counter to what motivates a company's human resource executive -- finding a high quality candidate quickly. Ascertain how well the recruiter's motivation aligns with your company's needs: What happens if the search is not filled within a given time? Are there performance goals and objectives to be met before the search firm receives future payments. Will the search firm reimburse a portion of the search fee if the assignment is not completed? If you fail to perform to my expectations, to whom do I voice my dissatisfaction? What happens if the final retainer is paid and we still don't have a hire? It's important to remember that search firms are service providers. Determine the firm's commitment to your company, assess its process and unmask its hyperbole. Ask yourself whether this search firm is passionate about serving your company's needs and providing what you and your company want. And if the recruiter is evasive or refuses to answer the questions, it may be time to recruit another recruiter.