By Tõnis Arro – headhunter, executive coach, entrepreneur

Employment decisions are among the most difficult ones for executives. The cost of the wrong decision is high and usually, executives are not well prepared for selecting people. They have not received specific training in making people decisions and after all, they are humans – a thing that cannot (yet) be fully improved. Humans tend to simplify, be biased, be influenced by halo-effect and other social phenomena that influence decision quality. One might exclude some candidate simply because he or she reminds someone else and vice versa. And then there is the myth about “personal chemistry” and the belief that “just having a human conversation” is a good thing to predict how good your potential working relationship might be. In reality, people tend to select other people who are similar to themselves and base their decisions on rather marginal indicators. Someone with similar tastes for movies or going to same golf club are examples for this. There is way out – prepare the hiring process better and use professionals to help you with this.

How good are the people working for you is the key that opens your door to success. And this key is in a keychain that is in your search partners hands. Choosing your partner for search and recruitment is the decision that leads you to great candidates – with superior service provider your time is never wasted meeting mediocre people and you have a trusted advisor to help you with the difficult decisions of utmost importance.

What should you look for while making your mind to choose between different service providers for executive and professional search?

Does the consultant understand (your) business?

This is the fundamental question. If negative, no need to think further. Your search partner is acting as an extension of your business. It is, therefore, crucial to check how well you are on the same page in your business understanding. What is your prospective consultant’s management experience? Does he ask right questions about your business? Does he understand your challenges? Sometimes it is recommended to find a specialized agency for a field or industry, but this might be a problem on smaller markets where usually the only good option is the most professional generalist.

How do they work?

Make sure you understand your prospective partner’s work processes and methods. Beware of fake “headhunters” who offer suspiciously good deals, but in fact, are never doing more than screening their own or public databases. Ask in detail about all the methods and pay attention how transparent your prospective services provider is. Do the methods and processes they use to correspond with your expectations? What are your possibilities to check the progress regularly in the search process? How often are they going to communicate with you and in what format they report progress?

How experienced is the consultant?

Always find out who will be the person handling your search assignment. Ask how long has this person been in search business? Will he/she be your single point of contact and fully responsible for the whole process (or will you see him/her only during the sales and final meetings)? You want to feel that you’ll be receiving a consistent service from someone who is experienced, not passed around from one consultant to another.

Are references available?

Who are their clients and what kind of searches have they been doing? Are references available, is the consultant/agency happy to share their reference list? Feel free to talk to the other clients – if they are happy with the service they will also be happy to share their experience.

Does the consultant understand your needs?

Of course, briefing your consultant well is your own responsibility. Without full details of who you’re looking for, no recruitment agency could be blamed for not finding them. Make clear what skills, qualities and/or experience is essential, what qualities are desirable and what are optional. If you talk to several potential partners, pay attention to how well they summarize your needs and even more important – do they add value with their questions and their brief or is it just a copy and paste of everything you have sent them? Thoroughness in analyzing of the position is indicative of the attention and engagement of the partner in the search process.

What are the timeline and terms like?

The direct search process is a dynamic process where strict dates are not always possible. Still, some consultants are more specific than others while describing their steps in the recruitment process. What is important for you is to see that the timescales are well planned and realistic and that you will be regularly fed back about the progress. It is also important for you to plan well in advance your own time for meeting the finalists according to your hiring policies.

Do you trust this person?

This is the final criteria you will have to use. Gut feeling is important here of course, but presumably, you use as much data as possible to make it. You have to ask yourself the simple question – is this the right person to handle your search assignments? Would you feel comfortable in discussing with later in the process? Is it someone whose advice would be welcome, whom you would like to be your trusted advisor in this important process?

To summarize: hiring people is a critical decision of utmost importance. Selecting best search partner who brings you greatest candidates and helps you choose best among these is an important step to success.