7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask Before Hiring A Recruiter

Posted by Paul Beard on 9/28/18 12:44 AM
Paul Beard
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One of the questions I often hear from CEO’s and others within hiring organizations is this one: “Why would I use an executive recruiter?”

Good question. And there’s a good response to it. (You’ll find it below.) But guess what - a lot of recruiters can’t answer that question for you. Seriously. I hate to knock members of my own industry but there are a lot of people out there, hoping to convince you that they know how to play matchmaker between you and the candidate of your dreams. Many of them can’t. What they lack in actual recruiting skills, they make up for in fast talking, big promises, and sheer force of will.

The result? Bad practice, followed by bad results, and a very bad feeling about recruiters in general. Does that mean you don’t need a recruiter? No. But it does mean that you should interview and vet your next one carefully. Next time, ask these questions – and listen carefully to the answers you get.

1. Why should I hire an executive recruiter?
Maybe you don’t need one. Ask yourself these questions: What’s your track record with your current hiring process? How much time, skill, energy, and mental focus are you able to devote to future hiring decisions? What are the chances you won’t be able to a) identify the ideal candidate for this job and b) convince that ideal candidate to join your organization?

These are questions I encourage every organizational leader to consider if they’re not sure they’re ready to bring in a headhunter. But I also tell them this: hiring the wrong person for a senior level position is a lot more expensive than it may look on paper. Beyond the time and money that is squandered on a bad fit who bails – or is shown the door – within the first year on the job, there is the lost opportunity to your business, the damage done by the poor decisions made by the failed hire, and the terrible toll all of that takes on the rest of your team.

And then I share this fact: a great recruiter is a specialist in finding the right hire. That’s who I am. That’s what I do. If a recruiter can’t say that – and show you proof that they’re telling you the truth – they’re not not the right recruiter for you.


before hiring a recruiter
Not all recruiters are the same - and neither are all search firms.

2. May I speak with 3 of your recent clients?
Successful recruiters who know their value love getting this question. And if anyone tries to convince you that references are unnecessary, they’re not loving the question. They’re scared of it. It’s true that there may be confidentiality or competitive reasons that a current client won’t want to give you much information. But if their recruiter has done well for them, most clients are willing to reciprocate with an honest referral.

3. How long have you been recruiting?
Yes, the ugly rumors are true: there’s a rapidly revolving door at the entry level of the recruiting profession. Many, oh-so-many, people give recruiting a whirl because it sounds like easy money and kind of fun. Very few of them actually possess the core competencies and career drive necessary to actually perform the job well and succeed long term. But what do you do when your recruiter very honestly tells you that they’ve been doing this for less than a year?

Here’s what you do: you listen for the rest of the answer. At SkyWater Search Partners, we always team our newer recruiters with our most seasoned and successful recruiters. And by team, I mean that they do actually function as a team on every project. If you’re filling a high-impact position, you can’t afford to entrust it to an inexperienced recruiter flying solo.

4. How will you communicate with me throughout the process?
How will they gather the information they need regarding the position? How will they update you? Will they email you a few times a week? Do they prefer phone calls? Texts? Get these questions out on the table, now. And decide whether you’re comfortable with the answer – or negotiate for something more comfortable. You might be surprised by how many times I’ve heard hiring managers complain about the ghosting of recruiters past.

5. Are the recruiter’s responses validated by what you find online?
Cross-reference everything the recruiter tells you with your own online search. How invested are they in their industry? Are they on LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? What are people saying about them professionally? What are they saying, professionally? Do they retweet or repost relevant content? Do they blog about matters that resonate for you? More importantly, do you see anything that contradicts what they told you?

6. What do the references say?
Remember when I said you need to ask for references? You need to hear from those people. As crazy as this may sound, a lot of people never bother following up after getting the references. Ideally, you’ll be able to schedule an actual conversation. During that chat, ask what position the recruiter filled for them, how successful they believe the hire was, how smoothly the entire process went, how the recruiter communicated with them, if they felt confident with the way that recruiter represented their organization, how long the process took, and what they wish the recruiter had done better. These are the bare minimum things to ask.

7. Do I feel comfortable with this person?
Let’s say you end up with a short list of two recruiters who satisfy all of the other criteria above. At the end of the day, we say we’re in a people business because this really is a people business. You’re looking for someone to join your team, embrace your values and make a positive difference for the long term of your organization. You think I’m just talking about your next new hire? I’m not. I’m talking about that new hire – and the person you entrust with finding them. So if you don’t feel good about the recruiter in front of you, pass. Find the person who inspires your trust and build a partnership with them.

So now that you've taken a moment to consider these seven questions, do you think you're ready to chat with a recruiter? We would love hear more. 

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Topics: For Employers, Recruitment