Getting Excellent Results from a Search Firm
Gaines & Associates International (www.gainesintl.com), a specialized professional search firm for the design and building industries, recently hit a pothole while working with a client. After Gaines had referred a candidate, the client interviewer told Gaines the person did not seem to fit the position. What he did not tell Gaines was that he had sent the person to talk with an internal colleague. That colleague liked the candidate and told him he should expect an offer—without mentioning it to the first interviewer, who had no intention of making an offer. As a result, the candidate was let down, Gaines found itself on the hot seat, and the firm came out looking less than first-rate.
The lesson, according Gaines, is that working with a professional search firm is a matter of commitment. It’s not the same as taking your car to a mechanic—where you pick it up at five and it’s fixed, and you have only to pay the mechanic. When you work with a search firm, you need to stand by and hand the mechanic the tools. This means you must actively participate with the search firm—and you must choose the right search firm in the first place.
Put on your best face
According to Donna Gaines, who started Gaines & Associates 21 years ago, the most effective thing you can do to acquire the right candidate is to sell your firm to that candidate. You want the person to see an opportunity he or she cannot turn down. After all, when you engage a high-level search firm, you’re looking for candidates, not applicants. These people already have jobs with which they likely are happy. They’re not looking to go anywhere—so you have to look good.
“It’s so important that the client sell, sell, sell,” says Gaines. “I don’t care if the candidate is the wrong person. If he or she has a bad interview, 20 people will hear about it. But with a great interview, the candidate will say, ‘I can’t wait to work for this company.’” This axiom, Gaines says, applies whether or not you want to make an offer. “It makes a really good image,” she says.
The best approach to selling the candidate, Gaines says, is to treat the person as you would a prospective client—as valuable merchandise. That means getting organized.
“There are often too many people in the decision process,” says Gaines. “So you need a champion, someone to take on your principals if they misbehave.” Grant Heath, Vice President at Gaines, concurs. He tells stories about top-level candidates waiting two hours for interviews, about secretaries asking prospective senior managers to fill out employment applications. “This is not an interrogation,” says Heath. “Once you have a candidate, get your best principals into selling that candidate. Decide who at your firm will be the coach or referee who will ensure that you follow up so you can have a win-win.”
Designers pay attention!
Apparently, architects and engineers can be some of the least reliable clients when it comes to follow through. “Designers are mercurial,” says Gaines. “They talk in colors, talk around things. Their decisions are based more on how they feel. They need to come down to earth.”
She tells of spending three hours at dinner with a candidate, selling him on a design firm from every angle—then getting no response from the firm. “I sold my soul to the candidate,” she says. “Then the client fooled around for six months.”
For designers, Gaines suggests three simple rules in working with a search firm: 1. Write down the three most important traits you need in the candidate. For example—he or she must have designed five buildings, have a specialty in health care, and be registered in New York State. 2. Express or decline interest within 48 hours after reviewing the portfolio. 3. Do the same after the interview. Says Heath, “These candidates haven’t been looking until we contact them. The client needs to understand he or she must respond quickly.”
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