Best practices in working with recruiting firms

This article provides best practice tips on how to work with recruiting firms and may be useful if your organization uses a recruiting firm to find new employees. Many of these points may also apply to an internal recruiter within your organization.

Note: Recruiting firms, staffing agencies, placement agencies and headhunters are all considered equivalent for purposes of this article.

Honesty or Full Disclosure

Be honest with the recruiting firm about your needs and the reason for the opening.  It is very difficult for a recruiter to help you find someone if there are pertinent details you’re holding back or if there’s doubt about the accuracy of your information.

Advise the recruiter of anything you don’t want to disclose publicly (e.g., salary ranges). Share information that is important to you about the position or the ideal candidate even if the recruiter hasn’t asked you specifically for the information.


Be Timely

If something has changed in the midst of the search such as requirements, process, other candidates, or timing, communicate the information to the recruiter you’re working with. Don’t string along recruiting firms or candidates indefinitely on searches.


Choose Carefully

There are a variety of recruiting firms to choose from:

  • Specialized vs. Non-Specialized: Many firms specialize in specific roles or industries.
  • Large vs. Small: There are multi-national, national or local firms. Decide what makes the most sense for the locations and types of positions that you’re looking to fill.
  • Permanent vs. Contract: Some recruiting firms specialize in temporary placements, others focus only on permanent searches, and some that do both. Align with a firm that understands your needs and works with clients on similar positions to your organization
  • Contingency vs. Retained Searches: Contingency search firms will not charge you unless they are successful in finding a candidate that you hire. Retained search firms will charge you a retainer (e.g. 1/3 of the estimated placement fees) upon beginning a search. Typically, the more senior the search, the more likely you’ll want to work with retained search firms. However, make sure to negotiate the terms.


Guarantee Period

The guarantee period is negotiable (the typical range is 3-6 months), but can be longer. Under the agreement, if a placed candidate leaves before the end of the guarantee period, the recruiting firm will find a replacement at no additional cost. The guarantee is considered a period to determine whether the successful candidate can do the job and/or stays in the position and does not typically cover restructuring changes, change in job responsibilities or other non-performance related changes.


Written Contract

Fees, terms and any other points on the search should be included in an agreement and signed by both your organization’s signing authority as well as the recruiting firm’s. Doing so will minimize any surprises later. If you don’t understand a term or clause in a recruiting firm’s agreement, make sure to ask for clarification and have the wording simplified if necessary.


Exclusivity/Multiple Positions

You can typically get a reduction in fees if you agree to use one recruiting firm exclusively on a search or if there are multiple positions that you’re searching for.


Multiple Recruiters

There are pros and cons to working with more than one recruiter on a search. For example, multiple recruiters will be able to cast a wider net for potential candidates for your position. A disadvantage is that recruiters may contact the same candidates to present your opportunity, perhaps causing confusion. If you decide to use more than one recruiter, let each recruiting firm know they are not exclusive.


Preferred Recruiting Firms

There are advantages and disadvantages of having a preferred list of recruiting firms that your organization works with. While you may be able to negotiate better rates overall, you may also be missing out on working with an excellent recruiting firm not on your list. If you’ve negotiated excellent rates for yourself, be aware that the recruiting firms may not work as hard on the searches because they have other open searches that will yield higher fees.


Negotiate Rates

While it is possible to negotiate rates, payment terms and other conditions in your agreement, be careful not to nickel and dime the recruiting firm to the point where they are less motivated to work on your search.


Meet in Person

Meet face-to-face with the recruiters/recruiting firm(s) that you’re working with. It’s difficult to add an addition to your “house” if the recruiting firm hasn’t seen it. Establish a strong relationship with the recruiter(s) you’re working with and communicate regularly.


Strategy for the Search

Find out from the recruiting firm the type of strategy they will use to find your candidate(s). Are they simply advertising the position and reviewing responses to the posting, or are they proactively searching for candidates? What network(s) will they be accessing to find suitable candidates? Will they be “headhunting” to find you candidates? Let the recruiter know at the outset if the search is confidential.


Periodically Evaluate

Has the recruiting firm done a good job on your behalf? Take the time to periodically evaluate to see if you need to look at other options.



While you might feel that the fees a recruiting firm will charge for a search may be excessive, keep in mind that there are years of experience, training and overhead involved in finding and building a database of candidates by a recruiting firm.  It is simply not a question of “pulling a name from a database” to present you with candidates. There is a lot of work involved in finding candidates for a position and making a successful placement.

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