A key executive retires, quits or is fired. You need a replacement, but how do you find that exceptional leader who is the perfect fit for the job? There’s a lot riding on hiring the right person, and getting it wrong costs your organization both time and money. To mitigate these risks, boards of directors and executives pay recruiters a lot of money to identify good candidates for high-level positions.

Unfortunately, hiring a recruiter does not always guarantee that your new executive will stay in the job. In fact, some large, global search firms admit that their 18-month retention rate can be as low as 60 percent. Why, after spending so much to find the “right” person for the job, are businesses still firing their new hires or watching them walk away so soon?

In many cases, it all goes back to the quality of the executive search firm’s work. If a search firm is doing its job right, the odds of a new hire fulfilling expectations are much higher. In this two-part series, I’ll address six important questions to help you hire a search firm that will fill your open positions with successful, lasting candidates. As you read, think about your organization’s processes and how you can adapt these questions to your unique environment for optimal hiring results.

1. Does the search firm guarantee the tenure and performance of the successful candidate?
Executives in the healthcare business are under constant financial pressure and know that successfully adapting to change is critical. Organizations that recruit and retain the best leaders stand the best chance of survival. That’s why it’s so important to find a leader whose skills and experience match your organization’s challenges, whose personality meshes with your organization’s culture and values, and who is going to stick around and solve problems through good times and bad.

A great search firm makes sure that the people it recommends meet all of these criteria, and back up that promise by guaranteeing the tenure and performance of the individual they recommend for a job. Healthcare organizations should accept nothing less than a 36-month placement guarantee for C-suite and executive assignments, and 24 months for non-executive administrators.

2. Does the search firm offer a client satisfaction guarantee?
Money is tight in the healthcare business. From the skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals to increasing pressure from payers, executives are working with less revenue and narrower margins than ever. Boards and healthcare executives are pushing for more value and accountability from their consultants, including executive recruiters – and rightly so.

Healthcare organizations deserve to get what they’re paying for, so executive search firms should meet their expectations with a performance guarantee that includes a commitment to deliver an acceptable panel of qualified and vetted candidates within a specified timeline. The search firm should be willing to share the risk by offering a meaningful financial incentive, such as reducing its fees by a specific percentage, if it fails to do so.

3. Does the search firm use a proven methodology to screen candidates?
Quality candidate screening separates the “good enough” candidates from the “ideal” ones. A candidate who looks good on paper and sounds great in a one-hour interview could be hiding a time bomb that’s just waiting to explode, such as past career failures, personal problems or negative personality traits that could interfere with job performance down the line. Good executive search firms excel at unearthing these potential hazards and protect their clients by weeding such candidates out of the running. The best firms have consistent, proven methodologies to do it well, and customize these methodologies to each organization’s specific culture and strategy.

Comprehensive, chronological, in-depth interviews with a detailed leadership assessment are among the best leadership screening tools, according to research conducted at General Electric Corp. For example, methodologies such as Topgrading© or PredictiveSelection™ include lengthy interviews – four to five hours for each candidate – and consistently deliver exceptional results. Why do they work so well? Anyone can make themselves look good in a one-hour interview, but a person can only hold up a façade for so long. After three or four hours of questioning, their true nature will emerge, and inconsistencies in their story may come to light.

In the second and final part of this series, I’ll share more advice on what to expect from an executive search firm, including who you should expect to work with, what information you should expect to receive, and why so many search firms have “no contact” lists that exclude vast fields of candidates. In the meantime, please leave your comments or questions below.

© 2012 John Gregory Self