Do’s and Don’ts in Hiring a Search Firm

by Sherry Heuser

Hiring a search firm or consultant to assist you in the hiring process can make your life easier. They will save you time, tap into a network you may not have access to, and use their experience to guide you in making the best decision or your organization. Most of all, they manage a time-consuming process so that you can focus on your work.

In deciding which consultant or firm to hire, following a few do’s and don’ts will result in a more successful relationship. Although these are geared toward searches, many of them apply to hiring any type of consultant or outsourcing any activity

Do’s to consider:

  • Do ask about their experience in the nonprofit sector, and with similar organizations, positions or searches. Recognize that if they haven’t done a search specifically for you before, there may not be an exact match. However, they should be familiar with many of the components and able to speak knowledgeably about their role.
  • Do make sure you, not the applicants, will be their client. This attitude should be obvious in the work they do, not just in the contract language. While it may not seem to make a difference at the beginning of a search, when negotiating with a top candidate, you want to be certain the consultant is looking out for your best interests.
  • Do agree upon a fee up front and understand the cost structure. Thoroughly discuss any possibilities for variance in the price, due to exceeding time estimates, cost overruns or salaries negotiated above the target.
  • Do address the expected and preferred frequency and method of contact during the search, and their availability to address questions and concerns as they arise. Be aware that fees based on an hourly-rate contract will increase as the frequency of contact increases. Clarify what is included in the price, and what may be reimbursable costs or add-ons.

Don’ts to be aware of:

  • Don’t allow them to take over the search without involving you at key points along the way. After all, this is your new employee, not theirs. While they may be administering the search process, you will still have an active role in providing information, contacts and input…and making the final decision.
  • Don’t ignore their recommendations. After all, this is their specialty, and you have hired them to help you.
  • Don’t allow them to bog your team down with details you have hired them to manage. Your contract should clearly outline responsibilities and authority, and you should discuss the nuances of these.
  • Don’t accept an inflexible, standard process that does not accommodate your structure or capacity, or take advantage of opportunities that may arise. Although they should have an overall plan and process to offer, each search is a bit different and should be negotiated individually; one size does not fit everyone.
  • Don’t accept only one recommended candidate for your consideration. The consultant should have proven methods to reach out to a broad spectrum of potential candidates, and provide you with options to consider and input that may guide your decision, but not make the decision for you.

The Bottom Line:  Keep in mind that the best results are accomplished as partners with well-defined roles. Ask questions, be clear on your expectations, and don’t settle for less than you are comfortable with or expect. The more you understand about each other’s processes, work styles and goals, the more productive you will both be and the better the outcome.

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