Since I started writing this "How to Choose a Headhunter" series in 2008, the world of recruitment/headhunting has turned upside down. Back then, my first post was the top questions I'd advise anybody considering engaging a headhunter for the first time, but time has moved on and the questions have changed - although not all of them!
So here's the main questions I'd ask if I were you - I'll omit "How Much?" as it's too obvious:
"How long will the search take?"
If they won't give you a straight answer, ditch them. If they're experienced they'll know within a whisker how long any search will take. If they don't offer to book a date in your diary for your first interview, ditch them again. In my experience, no search should take more than 6 weeks and very often less.
"Do you use LinkedIn to find candidates?"
If they tell you they don't, ditch them. They're either lying, or so out of touch that they're still relying on their steam-driven technology. I suspect they may still have a fax machine and print out their emails.
Every headhunter should use LinkedIn, but on its own it can be something of a blunt tool. Now that everybody is on it, candidates are increasingly cautious about responding, so approaches have to be personal and considered. Truth to tell, a headhunter should be working with a suite of tools and the phone should be glued to their hands. These days, candidates have to be courted by people who know how to speak their language.
"Will you guarantee your work?"
Any headhunter worth their salt will offer a 3 month guarantee without blinking. They should stretch to 6 months if they have confidence that they know how to match a company to a candidate.
"How will I know if you're on pace with the search?"
This one is a little more tricky, but you should gain some confidence if they commit to your first interview date at the start. They should also be able to update you at least weekly on progress - and they should be chasing you! If you start chasing your headhunter, they've got bored. Ditch them.
They may offer to send you updates and candidate spreadsheets, but anybody can construct one of those.
"What happens if I don't like your shortlist?"
Sometimes, just occasionally, you won't. The candidates have all the right skills and experience on paper, but you simply don't connect....
...but there are ways to lessen the chances of that happening.
Firstly, the headhunter should make GARGANTUAN efforts to understand you and your business. They should ask shed-loads of dumb questions to show they really want to understand your needs. If they don't ask you loads of questions, ditch them.
Secondly, they can use psychometric analysis to understand the individual better and even assess their line manager to check for fit and areas of potential conflict.
Thirdly, they can share CV's with you early (they may want to scrub out family names and contact details - issues of trust there for another blog!) and use them to discuss the key points and check for clarity. Such an approach should give you some comfort that they understand your needs thoroughly way before it comes to crunch time.
Finally, if you don't like the shortlist, the headhunter has to smile and accept your decision. They don't have to like it, or even agree with it, but they certainly shouldn't be trying to twist your arm behind your back - never a promising tactic! - and anyway, the network they've built should be delivering a steady stream of names and they should have a Plan B.
In six years I've had one total shortlist kickback. It can be disheartening, but it has to be dealt with. There's no throwing the toys out of the pram in a hissy-fit. I had a Plan B (I always carry on engaging with new candidates as they emerge even after the shortlist has been delivered - and sometimes I will add them to the shortlist at the last moment).
"Do you have any references I could talk to?"
I'm surprised that more prospective customers don't ask for references from my customer base. They should do. If you're looking for a headhunter, YOU should ask.
"How do you think a CV/resume should be constructed?"
An odd question you may think from a client perspective, but the answer could signpost how much they know and how modern their outlook. CV/resume are no longer a paper document. How they were laid out just 4 years ago, no longer applies - are they keeping pace with industry developments, or are they still living in the past? To discover how to construct a CV/resume, click here
"How much?" - (OK. I lied earlier. It is a question that should be asked)
I'll explore this one in another blog very soon as it deserves more time, but if you find yourself needing to ask because you're not convinced that this headhunter understands your needs, ditch them. A poor, cheap headhunter will cost you more in the long run than a stunningly good one with a higher fee. Price is always a consideration, but the most expensive is often not the best. The most expensive probably also has expensive tastes in office furniture.
Written by Martin Ellis - email him