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Questions Hiring Managers Should Ask Themselves Before Deciding on a Retained Search Partnership

08 December 2020

By Joe Yates

Questions Hiring Managers Should Ask Themselves Before Deciding on a Retained Search Partnership

We often hear from our customers that they believe a retained search is expensive and only suitable for board level appointments, but this is most certainly not the case. When engaging the services of a recruiter to find talent, there are a number of questions we recommend hiring managers ask themselves to help decide what kind of service would best suit their needs.

The hiring process can be time consuming and costly if the exact requirements are not assessed and prioritised dependent on the role that needs to be filled. Only then can decisions be made as to what level of input is needed from an external recruiter.

A retained search partnership could be the best way forward and it may not be the expensive option you think it is. You should start by asking these simple questions:

How important is it to my business that I get this hire right first time?

Ideally every hire you make is right first time, but in reality lack of time away from your core business activity, budget constraints or an immediate need to fill a role for continuity of output, sometimes mean hasty mistakes are made. Carefully consider the true impact of a hiring someone who doesn’t work out by asking yourself what impact it would have. Consider the cost implications that go way beyond agency fees, and includes wasted resources on on-boarding, IT, provision of benefits such as cars as well as wider business costs associated with operations. There is also your brand to consider, could a mistake have the potential to tarnish the internal reputation of your decision making team and/or the external reputation of your organisation.

How big is the talent pool for this role?

The criteria for every hire are different, but sometimes one or two of your unique requirements will limit the number of suitable candidates. The right person is out there somewhere, he/she will just be a little harder to find! A search for highly qualified or senior executives, those with niche sector experience or those with in demand skills will result in a finite talent pool. You need to ask yourself if your normal recruitment activity will be effective in gaining access to active job seekers as well as those doing a similar role but not currently seeking new opportunities.

How much time can I assign to this particular hiring process?

Timing is everything. You are fully committed to making a hire but can you afford the time to invest in a process that takes you away from your core activity? Dealing with multiple agencies, screening CVs during the first stages, coordinating internal interviews and undertaking assessments is time consuming for everyone involved. Even with the best intentions, deadlines will slip. Unnecessarily prolonging the process costs you more time and money in the long run.

Am I confident my talent supply chain understands my requirement?

By requirement we don’t just mean the job specification. Ask yourself what kind of information they need to be able to source the best talent for your role. Do they have an understanding that goes beyond a network in your industry sector and really have a grasp of your company visions, mission and values, your culture, key personnel and your diversity and inclusion policies?

How important is my employer brand?

The answer to this is of course that your employer brand should be positive for all candidates whatever the role, but it goes without saying that there are situations where hiring needs to be handled with more discretion than normal. For example, are you replacing an incumbent who does not yet know they are going to be moved on, or will news of a new appointment affect investments, share prices or unsettle co-workers? How a sensitive search is conducted and the experience of everyone involved speaks volumes about your brand. As importantly, is how your employee brand is understood and communicated through your recruitment partner. Will they take the time to embrace your company’s hiring ethos, communicate your values and stay true to your brand.

Once you have asked yourself the above questions you may want to consider working with a recruiter on a retained basis. There are benefits to both contingent and retained processes in terms of time and cost efficiencies as well as the quality of talent supplied dependent on the scope of the hiring brief. If you are considering making a hire and the above questions have been asked and answered, you may want to consider commissioning a retained search.

What are the benefits of a retained search?

Engagement & Accountability

By paying a retainer fee, hiring managers are enabling recruiters to concentrate on the role and requirements and not lose focus if they feel they are more likely to get paid by working on other business. In other words, they are fully engaged with you, your hiring goals and the job in hand.

In a contingent partnership, there can be a tendency for multiple agencies essentially racing to get their candidates in front of you, sometimes at the expense of quality and due diligence. The recruiter’s involvement is more consultative, and he/she is able to dedicate time to problem solving. Advising on the scope of a role, remuneration and sharing intelligence on the talent landscape enables the recruiter add value to the whole process.

Retained recruiters are fully accountable for the project from the beginning as they know they are simply looking for the best candidate because they have already been paid to do so. They can also more easily invest in costly dedicated marketing campaigns, use market intelligence and research resources to fully report on the market and identify the likely source of candidates. The project timings are pre agreed so there is a commitment from your recruiter to meet deadlines and provide timely updates as and when required.

Access to Passive Candidates.

Most importantly, the quality of the candidates a recruiter is able to present will be higher. Highly skilled, senior professionals are often difficult to find and when working on a retained basis, a recruiter will be able to access more accurately their network of active job seekers and crucially, passive candidates. By passive, we mean professionals not looking for a new role at this moment in time. Sourcing and then approaching passive candidates takes skill, expertise and time to have delicate and confidential conversations.

Cost Savings

It is a common misconception that retained search is more expensive than working on a contingent basis. In many cases the costs are comparable. In both a retained and contingent mod fees are usually based on a percentage of the salary of the role. By paying an upfront fee, the hiring manager is securing dedicated resources to the process. This fee, and any other instalments paid at different stages of the process, is then deducted from the final fee charged for filling the role.

Of course, if executed well there are cost savings to be made due to the time saved from using in-house resources and the return on investment from finding a candidate that may not have been found otherwise.

Time Efficiencies

Recruiting for a senior or specialist role is not something that anyone recommend is rushed. A retained search will almost always take longer, but that is the point, it is more accurate and in-depth. The resources put into finding candidates are more comprehensive at the beginning of the process. More time is dedicated to sourcing and screening suitable candidates before a shortlist is
presented to the hiring organisation. This could include assessments and psychometric testing as well as first round interviewing. The benefit to the hiring organisation is the time saving of internal resources and the greatly increased chance the right person will be found.

Packaged together, all the above results in a more premium service delivery model more suited to the appointment of niche, specialised or senior talent. Retained search assignments are not suitable for every role and the best advice is to speak with your recruiter.

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