More Than One Way to Hunt Heads

How do you go about finding great people to hire? Maybe you know some, maybe you can get referrals. But these go only so far. Here are some headhunting options:

Do it yourself The benefit of the do-it-yourself option is that you save short-term cash by not having to pay a professional. But the negatives are significant: Will you devote the time to recruiting, or will you put it off to deal with short-term problems and operating demands? Do you have the knowledge and contacts to do a good job? Do you know how to effectively interview, evaluate, and assess candidates? Thoroughly check references? Structure an offer? Deal with relocation and a spouse? How will you handle a counteroffer from your candidate’s present company?

Retained searches Generally considered the best and sometimes the most expensive recruiters, retained searches are used to hire CEOs, presidents, vice presidents, and other top-level executives and managers. They are also used when confidentiality is a necessity. This kind of search firm is more consultative. Someone from the search firm will probably spend a day at your facility, looking at your operation, talking to your key people where appropriate, and working closely with you to scope out what you really need by getting an understanding of your culture, business, plans, and strategy. The retained search firm will develop a search strategy in consultation with you, including a target list of organizations and people to review in advance, avoiding any potential conflicts; it will also create detailed, written job specifications and marketing materials. Once the search begins, the firm will actively manage the process, talking to, meeting with, evaluating, and assessing potential candidates; identifying the candidate shortlist; arranging interviews; providing status reports and in-depth reference checking; assisting in negotiations and hiring; and ensuring follow-through.

Contingency searches Contingency recruiters are usually used for midlevel and multiple position searches. Unlike retained search firms, you pay only when the firm delivers someone you hire, but the fees are often no less than those for retained searches.

You generally won’t get as high a level of service from a contingency recruiter as from a retained search firm. You should count on receiving a lot of resumes, often from individuals the firm has not met. Other companies may also be getting the same resumes. You may have to do a lot of sorting through resumes yourself. Although some contingency firms will cold-call to identify candidates, in many cases the resumes you receive will be for people who are looking to leave their jobs or who are out of work. This is not necessarily bad—you just have to factor it into your decision.

Contract recruiters For about $75-$100 an hour or more, contract recruiters will assist you in running an inhouse recruiting operation. They might come in one day a week and work with your staff in defining position specs and organizing the process. A typical engagement might include an immediate need for a large of number of people.

Researchers For about $75-$100 an hour or more, a researcher will identify potential candidates at other companies and may do reference and background checks.

Advertising The old “help wanted” ad works for the right jobs. There are many general and business media, trade publications, and Websites you can consider. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars or more for job listings. You may want to consider using a recruitment ad agency that knows the media and specializes in creating effective classified ads. They will be seen, but only by some people, and only on the given day your ad is run.

Les Gore is managing partner of Executive Search International, a Newton, MA-based executive search and recruiting firm. This article is excerpted from a white paper, “Strategies for Finding Top-notch Experienced Talent,” available at

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