When looking for a new role, you’ll have plenty of questions for a potential new employer. Ahead of any interview, you’ll do your due diligence and prepare a thoughtful way of discovering all that you need to at that vital meeting.

What people rarely ask though, are the key questions about the executive search company that’s finding the opportunities for them. To most executives this doesn’t seem such an obvious need, so why is it important and how could it help you?

Know who you’re dealing with

Understanding the relationship between a potential employer and the search firm opening your connection with them is very important. In fact, if you want to maximise your chances of a successful hire, it’s vital that you know how influential the search consultant is in the process, how much of it she or he is managing on behalf of the employer and how you should prioritise your time across multiple employment opportunities.

Search firms have two different models

Companies such as The RSA Group only work with clients when we’ve have been exclusively retained to fill a specific role. Rarely will any other search firm be part of the process and the search consultant will have a high degree of influence with the employer.

Search firms not using this model (and there are many of them) are not retained exclusively, and earn their income on a contingency basis by successfully finding people for multiple opportunities simultaneously. Their relationship with the client is far more tenuous and they are competing with other similar firms to fill the same vacancy. This means that the client will give much less time to the candidates from these companies, having made zero investment in both the relationship with the search firm and the candidates they suggest.

A further variable is between generalists and specialists. Most of the big global search firms are generalists, whereas companies such as ours specialize in the industry, in our case life science.

As a candidate, it’s important that you understand this and other aspects of the process too, so if you’re talking to a search consultant, here are some questions you need to ask:

  • What is their relationship with the client? Long term and trusted, or new?
  • Where are they in the recruiting process? This should give you good guidance as to how things stand before you engage.
  • At which levels in the employer’s company does the search consultant have connections?
  • Do they have recent successes with this organization and other similar ones?

Build a relationship

You probably won’t be talking directly to the client until much later, and in the case of a large, global search consultant, you won’t be speaking to the Partner who ‘owns’ the client relationship either. So, establish clearly who you’re talking to and where they sit within the search firm. Once you’re happy that you’ve identified the key person in the team, usually the Senior Associate, try to be helpful. If you’re not the right person to fill the post, how can you help, can you recommend anyone else? Offer your own advice. This all helps to build your relationship with the search consultant and you’ll be front of mind next time a suitable post crosses their desk.

Finally, remain engaged, ask the right questions and make sure that you have an efficient and open two-way dialogue with the search consultant as you build your search and find your perfect new role.

Matt Vossler, Partner | Matt.Vossler@theRSAgroup.com

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