Ask questions about the process they use for identifying potential candidates, whether any personality or skill-based assessments are performed, and if references are routinely verified.
Check the firm’s references. Asking past clients about the firm’s performance is an excellent way to gauge how they’ll approach your hiring needs–reputation is gold in the headhunting business, so do your homework.
Ask who’ll be doing the actual search: a principal of the headhunting firm or a lower-level staff member. Find out how long a typical recruitment search takes.
Ask if there are companies they can’t approach. Many headhunters won’t recruit from their own clients, which limits the pool of candidates they bring to you. Similarly, provide a list of companies you do want them to approach. Chances are you know your competition better than the headhunters do; spend the time to educate him or her.
Be very detailed in your description of job requirements. A recipe for failure is to tell a headhunter, “We need a really smart person to head up sales.” A more successful description is, “We need a candidate who has served in a VP capacity with a Fortune 500 company, handling international distribution of enterprise software to value-added resellers in Europe.”
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