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The Top 7 Questions to ask your Recruiting Firm

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #1: "What is your Success Rate?"

Success Ratedef. The percentage of successful hires completed over a one-year span, with success determined by both the client and the candidate, as audited by an objective party.

Knowing the Success Rate of your recruiting firm allows you to evaluate their ability to match the right candidate with the right opportunity. While most firms don't publish this critical statistic, we have determined that a Success Rate of 60% is considered by most to be acceptable.

By contrast, Accountants One and The WATERS Organization made the decision to post their success rate on the front page of their websites. We reject the concept of throwing spaghetti at the wall with the hope that some of it sticks.

Over the past 5 years we have never dropped below 91% in our Direct Hire Division. In fact, in 2008 our Success Rate was at an all-time high – 98%. In 2007 it was 97%. We are very proud of this fact, and believe that it shows our commitment to quality and long-term relationship building.

In 2008 our Success Rate on the Contract (temp) side was equally impressive. We achieved the highest percentage ever with a Success Rate of 93%. The year previous the rate was 91%.

Do you know what your Recruiting Firm’s Success Rate is?

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #2: "What is the Tenure of your Recruiting Staff?"

Knowing the tenure of a recruiting firm's staff gives you a quick snapshot of the management style of the firm. Are you working with a slash and burn organization, or a company that works to retain their team?

Of course the recruiting team only acts as a catalyst for the hire -- it is not the recruiter that will be joining your team. This may lead you to conclude that tenure really doesn’t matter; however, poor tenure can affect the quality of the firm's work in two ways. First, poor tenure often is an indicator of a poor organization, which may include poor recruiting practices. Second, poor tenure can make it hard to enforce a guarantee – if the recruiter isn’t there, who will take care of your need?

Worst of all, I believe that a firm that is not capable of retaining key employees cannot build long-term relationships with their customers -- after all, they are not building long-term relationships with their employees.

A recruiting firm that is bringing the greatest possible value to its client delivers value for a life-time. An outstanding recruiting firm does not act as a one-hit wonder, but rather develops a relationship with a company in order to maximize the impact of any candidate that is placed. This level of service always begins at the front-line – with the recruiting staff.

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #3: "How many years has the Firm been in Business?"

Many times I have heard the argument that recruiting is a solitary sport. In this argument the faulty conclusion is that recruiting firms don't matter. Well, certainly it is true that the solo recruiters can produce great results. But I believe that you can have your cake and eat it too.

A hiring manager should strive to work with a recruiter AND the organization that supports that recruiter. By striking the balance between effective firm and effective recruiter, the hiring manager ensures great work by an individual, while knowing that the firm will be there for support and quality assurance. It seems to me that the best of both worlds is not only possible, but necessary in ensuring great work for long periods of time.

The easiest way to determine if you are working with an effective recruiting firm is to ask about tenure. Knowing how long the firm has been conducting searches and making placements gives you the ability to quickly evaluate the strength of the firm. You can't do a poor job in this competitive industry for long.

A short time in business should cause you to pause. What if the candidate doesn't work out? Who will honor the guarantee if the recruiter leaves? What if you need help with retention? Are you more certain than not that the relationship will still be there?

Asking how many years the firm has been in business will provide you with great insight, allowing you to make an objective decision on how to invest your time. Knowing how long your recruiting firm has been in business is a great way to determine if you should begin to invest in the relationship with both the firm and the recruiters who constitute that firm.

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #4: "What is your Firm's Philosophy of Recruiting?"

Philosophy in and of itself does not lead to recruiting results, but the lack of philosophy or a misplaced philosophy will certainly provide poor recruiting results. You don't want to align with a recruiting firm that can't effectively articulate their role within the business equation.

Asking a recruiter about philosophy will help you differentiate between short-term profiteers and those who are passionate about service. I am sorry to say that there are plenty of slimy recruiters out there. Some couldn't care less about your hiring ROI -- as long as you give them a check, they are happy.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a recruiter wanting to be paid, and paid well. But at 30% of a candidate's annual salary, the value of the recruiting effort must be clearly measurable. Further, the quality recruiter should be able to articulate that value.

Of course there are always those recruiters who will answer the philosophy question like a champ, but their work will not align with their words. "My philosophy of recruiting is to match the goals of my clients with those of my candidates by using a database that has been collected over 36 years. Once we qualify and understand exactly what you are looking for in your role, then we create a recruiting plan, conduct behavioral interviews and reference checking, and then follow up to help with retention. Our firm is passionate about becoming a trusted advisor instead of a commodity, and we do that through a simple philosophy of care and service."

This speech cannot be followed up with unanswered calls and pulling a dozen candidates off a job board. Instead, these words must be followed with exceptional results.

So, ask your firm about their Philosophy of Recruiting. Listen carefully and take note. Then compare their words with their results. By following these steps you'll be able to determine if your firm is a valuable commodity worth your investment of time.

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #5: "What Percentage of your Clients are Repeat Customers?"

Question #5 involves repeat customers. By asking a recruiter what percentage of their business is repeat customers you are determining style and quality of work. A low percentage of repeat customers almost certainly points to a firm that does not prioritize relationship building.

In my opinion, you should attempt to partner with a firm that has at least a 50% return customer rate. By comparison, at Accountants One our percentage of repeat customers has been between 70% to 80% over the past 5 years. Last year our return customer rate was 73%. If you count referrals from our customers (established customers who introduce us to other customers), then the percentage goes to 79.6%.

I think that 73% is extremely high. In this case I wouldn’t use our statistics as a standard. I would be very comfortable suggesting any firm that has over 50% as a return customer rate.

If you ask your firm about their percentage of return customers and they don't know, then I would suggest a level of concern. While internal statistics are not going to help in your search for a Controller, Financial Analyst, or a CFO, (or your desire to be placed into on those roles) knowing that your recruiting firm has strong internal systems IS critical. And a great way to make certain that your firm has those internal systems is by asking about percentage of repeat customers.

So, ask your recruiting firm about their percentage of repeat customers and you’ll find out two things: 1) how well they treat their customers, and 2) how well they manage their systems. Definitely a question worth asking.

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #6: "Where are your strongest networks?"

A critical point by which to evaluate a recruiter is through his or her established relationships. Are you dealing with a specialist? Will the recruiter be able to pick up the phone and call established contacts, or will the recruiter have to build a network in order to serve you?

Whether you are a hiring manager looking to augment your staff, or an individual looking to augment your career, I strongly recommend doing your due-diligence before aligning with a recruiter. For example, a Controller with plans to hire an Accounting Manager should ask a potential recruiter about their track record in placing Accounting Managers. If there is no history of working at that level, then I would advise looking elsewhere. Similarly, a Senior Accountant or Accounting Supervisor looking to grow his or her career should seek a recruiter who has a network and a track history of placing Accounting Managers.

A good recruiting firm should strategically deploy recruiters across the industry they serve (verticals across the horizontal). Therefore, a recruiter within a strong firm has access to multiple networks across the team. For example, even if a specific recruiter doesn’t have a great network of Cost Accountants, he or she can access the Cost Accountant network of a co-worker. By working in this synergistic fashion, a recruiting firm is able to deliver strong networks across a broad path without any loss of quality.

Most recruiters are ethical, but just a word of caution. Be careful of those recruiters that oversell. As you strive to evaluate their network, don’t settle for generalities. Ask for specifics. You don’t want to put your career in the hands of a recruiter that is all bluster and no back up. Ask for specifics about successful searches completed, current database strength, and organizations to which the recruiter belongs.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but in my experience, not enough people ask about established networks. Spend the time to clarify the networks of your recruiting firm before you make the decision to spend time building a relationship.

The Top 7 Questions to Ask Your Recruiting Firm -- #7: "What recruiting methodology does your firm utilize?"

Understanding the systematic process that your recruiting firm utilizes in recruiting, evaluating, and placing talent is critical in evaluating any firm. Unlike #4 in my list of the top 7 questions to ask your recruiting firm (“What is your firm’s philosophy of recruiting?”), this question is designed to reveal the systems that are utilized. By inquiring about recruiting methodology, you can determine if the recruiting firm has a process based system of search and placement or if they lack organization and structure.

In my opinion, inquiries into this realm should reveal a process with the following elements: 1) a thorough process for taking a detailed job order that includes the org chart, job description, requirements, goals, as well as benefits and perks, 2) a recruiting plan, 3) a structured approach to screening and documentation, 4) behavioral interviewing followed by behavioral reference checks, 5) a strategic approach to making a job offer, 6) built in methods to avoid counteroffers, 7) systems for ensuring a long-term fit through on-boarding, and finally, 8) an organized follow-up procedure. All of these elements should be present in any good recruiting firm methodology. Their absence may suggest that your firm is not mature in their recruiting processes.

As I always stress – the proof is in the pudding. The best methodology is worthless unless it leads to hiring the right person for your role. However, I believe that what a customer should look for in a recruiting firm is an organization that can provide consistent results over the long haul. With a solid methodology in place a firm can help their client create systems for producing a good hire after good hire.

From the perspective of a candidate, knowing that a recruiting firm implements a structured methodology is comforting. A firm that utilizes objective techniques will be far less likely to place you in a role in which you are not suited. You’ll be far more likely to be successful with a firm that has an established and proven methodology.

I hope you have found value in these 7 questions to ask your recruiting firm. If you take the time to ask these questions you will be able to effectively evaluate a potential recruiting partner.


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