Speak up before wasting your time or spending one dime
Some years back I was made to realize that even the highest-level corporate chieftains can find themselves at a loss when it comes to knowing which questions they should ask a recruiting firm.
There I was, sitting face to face with a well-known chairman of a significant public corporation seated behind his expensive mahogany desk. The CFO was to my right; the HR executive vice president to my left. The conversation was going well until I was thrown a curve ball.
"What kind of information technology background do you have, Frank?" the chairman asked.
Ouch. How could I answer that without sending the dialogue into a downward spiral?
During the next few seconds, the following chess moves were rapidly played out in my mind:
If I replied "I have no experience in IT," that might send the wrong message and portray my firm as one that lacks experience required to recruit for the job. At that time, I had 15 years' experience filling such V.P.-level positions. Still, it would not sound right to say I had no experience.
I could not say "I have experience in IT," because I really did not, at least not to any modern level of a company of this size that made a difference.
I realized I was at an impasse no matter how I replied.
It then hit me: My trouble was due to the flaw within the question itself. Within seconds, I replied back:
"The question you ask is a good one if I were the candidate you were considering to hire. But in all fairness, the question you are asking does not address what my firm's recruiting track record consists of. You are hiring me to recruit and not to manage your IT department. Therefore, it is my organization's track record and ability to recruit that you might be more interested in. Would it not be more informative for you to know of our success in filling executive-level positions?"
Since his facial expression did not signal resistance to my closing question, I immediately followed through with references I had prepared in hand.
As I spread the laminated "Thank You" letters in front of him, each of which was a full color copy with recognizable corporate logos imprinted on them, he raised his hand and asked me to stop.
He was satisfied. Our firm received the retainer and we filled the position within 90 days. But it was a close call that I was ill-prepared for.
Over the years since then, I compiled a list of the six most critical questions a hiring manager should ask.
Each week my questions quickly expose those who are amateurs from the real McCoys as I use these same questions when receiving countless "cold calls" from recruiters who don't know I'm a recruiter here at my own office.
These questions quickly expose those who have failed to invest in their business and those whose business practices are ill-conceived or simply inadequately trained:
Google the Recruiter's Name
One final piece of advice, in addition to the six questions to ask, is to take research tasks into your own hands. For example, anyone who is visible within a certain network should have left some digital footprints in cyberspace that will come up in a Google search.
Simply place the recruiter's name in Google and see what you find. You might be surprised. If you find nothing whatsoever, you may have some due diligence on the preceding questions to follow up on. Ask, "How come I see nothing about you when I Google your name?"
One thing you will notice by the above list is that previous corporate experience within a specific discipline is not important. I have hired recruiter trainees from the ranks of director to executive vice president from the corporate world.
Despite their "black books," decades of seasoned tenure, and Rolodex of names, most of these recruiter-trainees failed miserably within the first year despite intense training.
Having a network is useless if you don't possess the soft skills of massaging and nurturing such network contacts and transforming them into a consistent candidate pipeline.
This career requires a personality make-up that is at the opposite end of the spectrum from that of the classic corporate citizen. If someone excelled in the corporate world, they most likely will have difficulty recruiting, which demands intense entrepreneurial resourcefulness. It calls for a completely different genetic brain composition.
Don't be impressed with previous experience in a particular corporate function, as this presents little correlation with current recruiting and placement success.
- Frank Risalvato
Frank G. Risalvato, CPC (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been in the executive search industry since 1987. In 1991 he became founder of IRES, Inc., a national search and consulting firm headquartered in North New Jersey. IRES has placed thousands of professionals and executives at companies ranging from the Fortune 100 to privately owned entrepreneurial firms throughout the U.S. Frank has been sought as a participant on hiring committees and boards of Fortune 500 corporations and has participated in regional and local training seminars and public forums. In 1996, he was invited by then New Jersey Commissioner of Labor to help form the state's new Employer Advisory Committee during the Whitman administration.