Keys to Effectively Work With Your Search Firm


So, your organization has approved and hired an executive search firm. What do you need to know to optimize your organization’s time and financial investment? How do you most effectively work with your search firm? What do search firms wish you knew about their process? 

How to Choose your Executive Search Firm 

An executive search firm worth their salt has a network and expertise in the field for which you are looking to hire. This expertise and knowledge of the field does matter.  Executive search firms with an established network and contacts will present qualified candidates at a quicker rate.  There will not be the wasted time of the learning curve. 

True, any good search firm can apply their search methodology in any field and, in time, can be successful.  But, as a client, do you have time to wait?  If you need an Economist, engage a firm that recruits economists.  If you need a Health Services Researcher, engage a firm that recruits health services researchers.

The best question a client can ask the search firm to understand if this is their field of expertise is:  Can you give us examples of placements you have made in this area?

Getting Started

Considering all the client’s prior time and effort utilized to identify candidates, by the time an executive search firm is hired, the search will typically begin with a sense of urgency.

An initial meeting should be scheduled with the search firm and hiring managers to discuss the needs of the search.   This meeting is essential to make sure that everyone is on the same page – on board – in regards to the expected qualities of the ideal candidate.  This will assure that the resumes presented by the search firm are in accordance with the expectations of the hiring team.   

Some search firms will utilize a statement of work (SOW) to clearly communicate expectations, highlight the target audience, outline the developing stages, and specify what constitutes the end of a search.   However, this should not take the place of a “kick-off” meeting.

Life Cycle of a Search 

In general terms, a search has the following life cycle:

  1. Kickoff meeting between the search project director and key members of client staff directly involved in hiring.
  2. A verbal or written blueprint of expectations relative to the search criteria.
  3. Targeted recruitment effort to identify and screen potential candidates for the role. This involves extensive researching, identifying, networking, recruiting and screening candidates.
  4. Initial resumes are submitted within two to three weeks of the kickoff.
  5. Search recalibration (based on client feedback on the first candidates presented for the role). This is a critical stage in the search process since the feedback received enables the search firm to either push forward or shift gears while refining their search efforts, in addition to thinking “outside of the box” to identify additional candidates.
  6. Scheduling initial phone/video interviews and follow-up in-person interviews between candidates and client.
  7. Selection of preferred candidate.
  8. Presentation of offer – usually contingent on the feedback and insights of the search firm to make the most appropriate offer.
  9. A candidate is hired. A straightforward search can usually be completed within a two to six- month period.

There is always enthusiasm and momentum at the beginning of a search – how do you maintain that energy and momentum?

Searches start off, as relationships tend to, in high spirits.

The most critical time for a search is right after the first few candidates have been submitted for review. Clients have a million things to do and usually do not want to take time to provide detailed feedback on resumes submitted.

Avoid the temptation to respond to resumes with “yes” or “no”.  The more detail you provide the search firm as to why the candidate is or is not a fit, the better the subsequent resumes will be.  The search firm will use the client feedback to focus their search effort.  The client is the expert in their field, and their knowledge can greatly help the search. 

While providing feedback might be time consuming, remember – one step back but two steps forward.  The small investment now will pay big dividends in getting a top-notch hire!

Weekly Meetings and Search Status Reports

One of the complaints clients have is that the search process is not transparent.  The retainer is paid, and the client does not know what is going on behind the scenes.

Request the search firm to supply search status reports at least every two weeks.  Weekly conference calls should be scheduled for every week.  When there is a weekly call and search status reports, more interaction and dialogue results between the client and search firm and more candidates are generated.

It is time consuming for both sides, but definitely worth the effort.


  1. Choose a search firm who specializes in the field of your open position.
  2. Have a kick-off meeting.
  3. Keep in mind the life-cycle, milestones of the search process.
  4. Give feedback to search firm on resumes presented
  5. Request search status-reports and weekly conference calls.

Good luck!