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Ask Your Retained Search Firm These Questions

Choosing your business partners with rigor is essential. Sure hiring a retained search firm to help you build out your team is a reversible decision. Meaning if you fall out of love with the search firm, you can replace them in a single email. Easy enough.

However, you are counting on these firms to aid you in evaluating and acquiring your most precious asset - people. Often times leaders hire search firms on a single intro or board member recommendation. It can be "safer" to do so. A referral from trusted parties are great. But always "trust but verify." So often we fall into traps and we realize mid search, the firm is delivering low value but you continue on. Or you realize post search when the person joined is 30 days in, you have the "oh s&*t" moment.

Ask these questions when evaluating retained search firm partners to hire:

  • What experience do the people working on your searches have working directly in your market?

  • Do they have any experience as an operating executive in a similar company as yours? How do they actually know what accelerates your business, by looking at LinkedIn?

  • What 1 practice does the firm excel at the most and why? Few can be all to all people. Revenue, Engineering, Product. Hire generalists, expect mediocrity.

  • Can they articulate your company's value proposition and pitch? You are asking them to do so with candidates, have you asked them to convey it back to you? Have they asked you for a product demo?

  • What feedback do they give you to the job definition and candidate expectations?

  • What access, if any, do they have of customers you are selling to today to validate candidates?

  • Do they do more than a VP/CxO search? What if you need a sales director or sales engineering manager?

Today too often the very first question a CEO asks in hiring a retained search firm: "What similar searches have you done recently?" The intent is immediate pipeline. But you are asking the wrong question. You will get recycled candidates and one candidate who may fit in one company, is a bad pattern matching reaction to assume they may be a good fit for you. Start with asking the above questions. Get to the "Why" of the retained search firm you select and reap the rewards.

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