DILEMMA: After five months on the job, we've just fired the search firm that was trying to find us a new sales and marketing director. How could a firm with its reputation fail? And how can we pick someone better and get it right this time?
ISSUES: First, you need to understand why things haven't worked out so far. Maybe you're not the talent magnet you think. The job, the company, the sector and the market opportunity might appear less obviously attractive to others. Is it a case of the wrong search firm or the wrong consultant? If good candidates have turned you down, you need to know why. Maybe you had the wrong specification and you've been looking for a candidate that doesn't exist. Did you get the package right?
Should you be using a search firm at all? Perhaps you should consider advertising the post. How did you select the firm - did you check it out? And was there a proper pitch? Is its research function strong enough? Does it have a good network in the places you're looking?
What is the role of the search firm? Identifier, seller, package negotiator? Success often depends on the quality of the researcher rather than the consultant, so ask to meet them. Find out how they'll describe the job and the company to potential candidates and ask to see the database.
At the risk of being cynical, you should also carefully interpret the language of search. For example, when a headhunter says: 'We've found the ideal candidate, you need look no further,' it means: 'We've searched our database - well, lever arch file - and only come up with one person.'
Search firms also have to endure clients from hell. These are the ones who keep changing the interview process and the spec, are unrealistic over salaries and are hopeless wooers. Any decent candidate is going to have a choice and should be buying as much as selling.
- If good candidates turn you down, find out their real reasons.
- Be sure that search is the right route and be clear on the search firm's role.
- Organise a proper pitch. Focus on the person actually doing the assignment and liaise with the researcher who's going to source the candidates.
- Set a clear timetable and manage them tightly.
- Be realistic about the opportunity, and take a course in search industry lingo.