How to hire a recruitment firm How to hire a recruitment firm

Whether you do it in house or through a recruitment firm, it’s not just about hiring; it’s about hiring at the right time and with the right process in place to meet your company’s business objectives, explains Philip Lefebvre, Managing Partner, Whitewater Executive Search.

The decision to recruit is usually a positive one. It indicates growth, expansion, and the desire to hire talent to manage positive objectives. It can also represent a feeling of panic, as management agrees to accept the new personality of one that is not their own – and the higher the role in the corporate structure, the more essential it becomes for the right person to fit with the right crowd and make the right decisions in the best interest of the company.

Recruiting can be interpreted in many different ways; and typically, on the basis of what impact the specific role has on the organisation or where it sits in the organisational structure. The recruitment process encompasses several steps depending on the complexity of the role and the experience a potential candidate must have in order to be considered a match for the company’s needs. Add to that the multitude of different recruitment methods, and it becomes a complicated decision for any human resources team.

Role and repercussions

The task of the recruitment officer responsible for hiring 300 sales reps is as complex a task as recruiting mid-management or senior executives. The role of the recruiter is to hire staff that can embrace the vision and mission of organisation; and that happens at all levels. However, as we move up to the management ranks, recruiters begin dealing with candidates’ engrained values and personality traits that must be carefully screened in order for the “fit” to happen.

When a company identifies a need to recruit an executive, it has one of two approaches at their disposal; it can use the internal human resource function to recruit candidates, or it seeks support from a recruitment firm. With the latter, the decision to outsource the process can become a daunting task.

There is a multitude of different firms that offer recruitment services and as in any industry, the quality of the service ranges dramatically. Key elements that influence the decision of which firm to use are cost, quality of deliverables, and time lines. Considering that no solution offers all three elements, a company must decide which of these are the most important.

The objective when recruiting an executive into a company is to hire the right person who will quickly and seamlessly integrate into the organisational structure and deliver results. The cost of a bad hire goes beyond just the fees and salary paid; and therefore, it’s critical for a company to ensure that the recruitment process is thorough. Furthermore, when a company seeks to recruit an executive, they are looking to obtain the best candidate available at that point in time in the market. With this in mind, the number of recruitment firms that offer suitable recruitment services greatly diminishes.

The role of recruiters – in house or within your company – is to act as ambassadors while interacting with the candidate market. They will essentially sell the opportunity to individuals and thus need to be equipped with the right information about the company and the position. It is, therefore, essential to have a consultative relationship between clients (internal or external) and recruiters or HR departments. The more passionate recruiters are about the business, the more impactful they will be when selling the opportunity to potential candidates; and the higher the success of attracting top talent.

Where companies fail during their recruitment process is typically when they have given an assignment to the wrong person. Executive recruitment or executive search is a complex process that must be done correctly in order to guarantee a successful placement. Organisations that choose to use multiple recruiters at a time for executive positions will only cheat themselves. The service rendered by firms that agree to non-exclusive/success-based terms is only a fraction of what an organisation would require to get the best person for the role.

When a project is given to several firms at once, it becomes a race against time and the quality of deliverables is the last priority. There is no formal research and recruitment process and, in fact, these firms will typically rely on a database of CVs which they will match with the requirements of the role. The firm will then send several CVs which they think could be suitable and that is the extent of the process. There is limited interaction with the client and usually a basic conversation with a potential candidate to obtain their current salary and notice period.

The search process

When a company hires an executive, they seek to attract someone who will ultimately have a strategic impact on the business. It is in the best interest of the company to make sure that the search process is methodical, and that the potential candidate market is scrutinised. A company should not be content with a short list of active job seekers who are either out of a job or desperately trying to leave their current one. The true talent lies in the passive job seeker, and in order to get to those, the recruitment process must be thorough.

As previously mentioned, the relationship between a client or business head and a recruiter is critical to the success of a project. Armed with a strong understanding of the company, the industry, and the current market dynamics, a recruiter will work with a client to develop a list of target organisations which will be researched to identify who in these will have the required experience for the role. This target list of individuals is the basic research that any good recruiter will use, and it typically takes seven to ten days to acquire this information.

Once the research is complete, the recruiter will then actively recruit these individuals and propose the opportunity to them. In tandem, a recruiter will also source with industry experts to assist in identifying who the “stars” are. It is at this point in the search process where constant communication between the client and the recruiter is essential. A client must be kept informed regularly, primarily to ensure that the recruiter is on the right track, and for any necessary course corrections.

Timelines will vary significantly during a recruitment project. Several variables affect the time it takes to get to the short list stage. These include the geographic scope of recruitment efforts, time of year when the project is being done, and availability of client for feedback. A standard search assignment should take approximately three to five weeks to get to the short list stage. Companies that expect results within a week or two cannot expect the same level of quality in the candidates as the process will be rushed and the research incomplete.

At the short list stage, the recruiter will have interviewed several potential candidates and is now in a position to make recommendations. Some organisations believe in the maxim “the more, the merrier” but, in fact, it is the role of the recruiter to properly screen and minimise the amount of candidates to the perfect few – usually three or four.

The recruiter will typically meet with their client to discuss these candidates and share their views on each. It is also an opportune time to raise any concerns that could be delved into deeper during the client interviews.

Seal the deal

It is also at the short list stage that the typical search assignment drags on. It is critical to the success of the search process that clients remain responsive and engaged. While it is the role of the recruiter to present a strong short list, it is the clients’ responsibility to keep the process moving forward internally. This means scheduling interviews with all the stakeholders and sharing feedback regularly with the recruiter. Many searches derail at this stage because as interviews get postponed or rescheduled, candidates disengage from the process and their perception of the client company is distorted.

As the process moves towards a successful close, it is the recruiter’s role to assist their client with compensation negotiations. It is typically advised that the recruiter act as middleman during these discussions as it guarantees a continued and healthy rapport between candidate and hiring manager.

Philip Lefebvre

It is also recommended that the recruiter be aware of candidates’ compensation expectations. It helps to avoid situations where a client and candidate get to the offer stage to only find out that the candidate’s expectations are well beyond what the company is looking to pay.

The recruitment process described is essentially what a client should expect from its search provider. Beyond this, a recruiter must be a credible and trustworthy consultant to clients. The two key measures of a successful recruiter are the success rate in placing candidates, and the percentage of work that is repeat business.

There will always be a need for inexpensive recruitment solutions, and there are many of those available. However, when an organisation makes the decision to hire someone that will have a multi-million dollar impact on its operations, it is more prudent and warranted to spend more to ensure the search for that individual is done well.


Philip Lefebvre combines more than 15 years of executive search experience between Korn/Ferry International, and Heidrick & Struggles. He subsequently moved to Dubai in 2008 to participate in the growth of a regionally-based executive search firm.

Philip began his career in Montreal, Canada, assisting companies across the telecommunications and natural resources sectors. He then moved to Toronto, where he broadened his experience and worked closely with clients in the pharmaceutical, FMCG and financial services sectors. Prior to moving to the UAE, Philip was the Canadian Practice Head for the life sciences industry sector for Korn/Ferry International. Since his arrival to the region, Philip has had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients. He has successfully closed searches in sectors such as industrial, oil & gas, real estate, hospitality and pharmaceuticals. He has also worked across several key geographies including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Philip is Canadian but spent the first eight years of his life in Saudi Arabia. He holds a Bachelor of Finance degree from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and is fluently bilingual in English and French.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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