Are you retainer-ready?

Every time a contingency recruiter asks me how to write a retained search, I turn the question around and ask the recruiter, "Before I say anything, first tell me why you think a retained search would be in the best interest of your client."

In other words, forget about how much you'd like to write a search contract and get some money up front. Put yourself in your client's shoes and consider how a retained search would benefit whoever is writing the check.

Don't get me wrong. Cash, commitment and control are pretty nice perks. But they do nothing to address your clients' needs. They're worried about how they can fill key positions, not how they can fill your bank account.

Don't Play Dr. Phil
What's really astonishing is how many contingency recruiters want to write retained searches so they can control -- or even punish -- companies they feel have mistreated them. Unfortunately, fancy contracts and up-front fees can't improve a dysfunctional relationship, any more than putting wallpaper over a bumpy surface will smooth out the wall. The veneer may be new, but the imperfections will eventually show through.

Effective consultants look first for the value they can add, then the cash they'll receive -- not the other way around. If you're thinking about offering retained search services to your clients, the first step is to understand the reasons why an organization might choose retained search over contingency. These include:

1.Tradition. Since most high-level searches have been done on a retained basis for as long as anyone can remember, why try to reinvent the wheel or fix something that isn't broken?

2.A proven track record. In general, retained search is considered the best way to improve the quality of leadership in a timely and cost-effective way.

3.Depth and breadth of service. Retained search is a multi-faceted discipline that involves the type of research, problem-solving and analysis that's beyond the scope of services offered by many contingency recruiters.

4.Clarity of roles and responsibility. Given the importance of filling a key position, the last thing a company wants is confusion over who's doing what or who has the authority to refer qualified candidates. That's why 99 percent of retained search contracts specify that the search firm that wins the contract becomes the exclusive provider of services.

5.Partnership, not competition. Contingency recruiters often face potential conflicts of interest, in that what benefits the recruiter may not necessarily benefit the client.
For example, if you're a recruiter trying to fill the same position with three different companies, two of the companies may lose their access to the very best candidates.

Or, if you're marketing a hot candidate, and two of your clients are interested in hiring the person, it may set off a bidding war that artificially drives up the price of talent.

Bear in mind that not every position will call for the services of a retained executive recruiter. However, if you decide to offer retained search, always put your clients' needs first. That way, you'll build your reputation and your business at the same time.

By Bill Radin
 BlackDog Recruiting Software Inc.
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