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It Takes Two: Tips for Clients and Search Firms to Build an Effective Relationship

When clients retain us to conduct an executive search assignment, they usually have a definitive sense of who they want to hire. Typically, the position has been open for some time, it’s a critical role for the organization, and the client is feeling frustration and a sense of urgency. Time is of the essence, but they also want to ensure they hire a highly qualified candidate and avoid a missed opportunity.

We’ve worked with many clients over the last 20 years and seen some of the same patterns in searches across varying industries. Based upon our experience, I’ve highlighted a few suggestions that may help organizations maximize their experiences with search firms:

  • Role Clarity: Take the time up front to gather as much information on the position’s responsibilities, key objectives and priorities, and create an overview of the team reporting to the role. This insight helps the search consultant be more efficient when launching the search.
  • Key Stakeholder Access: The search consultants should have a series of conversations with whoever manages the specific role, members of the team, and key internal clients. This information allows the search firm to learn more about the position and what type of person will be a good fit, as well as get a sense of the overall office culture. Additionally, it helps the client and consultant make sure they’re both on the same page.
  • Collateral Materials: Provide the search firm with background documents, such as an organization chart, company materials, news releases, etc. The search consultant will become an unofficial PR agent for your company, so the more information and perspective you provide them, the more effectively they’ll be able to “tell your story.”
  • Communication: The lack of communication and feedback from the client can be the most frustrating aspect of the search process. While we don’t need to talk to clients every day, having an ongoing dialogue is crucial for ensuring everyone is on the right track, identifying the right kind of candidates, and providing the feedback necessary to continuously engage and retain candidates. A significant lapse of time between interviews and feedback is a recipe for disaster – it disengages candidates quickly and leaves the impression that the client is not decisive or interested, and the search is not a priority.
  • Lend a Hand: Candidates hear from the search consultant regularly throughout the process. If there is a time lag due to scheduling issues, or if several candidates are in the queue to be interviewed, we recommend clients call candidates they are eager to retain in the meantime. “Showing them the love” goes a long way in spreading good will. It truly takes a village to reel in a good candidate.
  • Offer: It’s fairly common that the compensation package provided at the onset of the search is different than the offer that is actually extended. Unfortunately, some of our clients end up developing lower offers than what was stated in the beginning, leaving candidates feeling discouraged. The reason for this can be unclear; the client may not have had all the information at the beginning of the search, or they may have been too optimistic with their original plan for the salary range. Whatever the cause, the lack of transparency often frustrates candidates and pushes them to turn down the opportunity. We recommend giving some thoughtful, realistic consideration about all aspects of the offer when the search is launched. Having an upfront discussion with the search consultant can help prevent problems and surprises.

The most effective searches we conduct are with clients we’ve formed a close partnership with over time. We prefer to develop an open and honest relationship and share an ongoing dialogue that will allow us to identify a pool of candidates that closely matches their needs. We want to exceed our clients’ expectations and find those elusive “A-level” candidates who will make significant contributions. The only way we can achieve this goal is to work together as true partners.

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