How To Get Top Performance From Outside Recruitment Firms

Are you disappointed by your experience with outside recruiters? In this three-part blog series I’ll refer to the recruitment industry as consisting of Executive Search Firms (which are paid up to 35% of first year compensation regardless of whether you hire someone they present), Contingency Recruiters (only paid if a candidate is hired), and Staffing companies (like contingency, but some offer “contract to hire” large numbers). Within companies of course there are Talent Acquisition Specialists who are sometimes called recruiters, but in these blogs I will focus on outside recruiters.

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There are a few highly ethical and competent firms in all categories, but overall, outside recruiters suffer from a mixed reputation. For example, I have asked over 800 CEOs, “When you use executive search firms, what percent of the time do you feel you get your money’s worth?” The answer: 20%. Why so low? For the same reason almost all outside recruiters fail to deliver a high percentage of high performers:

The Major Problem with Almost All Outside Recruiters


They don’t find out candidates’ weaker points, because they don’t ask candidates for weaker points! Outside recruiters too often do not make an effort to present you with much more than a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, sanitized and devoid of any significant weaker points. You pay them to show you an accurate, complete picture of the candidates they present, not just an idealized image.

Partners in more than 20 search firms have told me, “We ask candidates about their accomplishments and successes in all jobs, but if we were to ask about their failures and mistakes, and put those in our reports, clients would tell us to find better candidates.”

Nonsense! We all have weaker points. High performers, A Players, have some weaker points and perform at a high level despite them. You need to know both the positives and the negatives when considering a candidate for hire. The top executive search professionals we know use Topgrading, meaning they ask candidates for both positives and negatives in every job.

two women sitting at small table

What if you could get a thorough, accurate picture of the candidates for your openings, and then validate that picture by having your candidates arrange calls with managers they reported to? You know you’d hire a lot more high performers.

Topgrading built that solution for clients decades ago: And, the most respected recruiters use this time-proven method that is a cornerstone of our Topgrading hiring methods.

woman with yellow jacket talking on phone

How to Get Much Better Candidates from Outside Recruiters


Require any outside recruiter to tell candidates that your hiring process requires, as a final step, candidates to arrange reference calls with managers they have reported to. The best outside recruiters are happy to do this, knowing they will present better candidates to you. When candidates realize that you will capture a complete picture of what they are really like (capabilities and personality/fit, their strengths, and weaker points), there are many benefits:

  1. Low performers remove themselves from the application process. Candidates with a track record of low performance do not want to or won’t be able to arrange reference calls with their managers. This saves Recruiters and your Human Resources department a lot of time.
  2. Recruiters present you with much better candidates.
  3. Your interviews will be more productive and fulfilling because you can be confident that candidates are being transparent about their successes and weaker points, which reference calls will confirm.
  4. Your assessment of candidates will be tested against the feedback you receive when you conduct the reference calls with managers.
  5. Reference calls are easy to schedule, and you avoid phone tag.
  6. Search firms and contingency recruiters who use this technique earn more respect since candidates are more transparent with them and with you and are more likely to be a good hire. In other words, they’ll submit better candidates for your consideration, and you’ll end up with much better hires.

In my next two blogs, I’ll outline two more Topgrading methods you can use in your hiring process to assure much better hires when using outside recruiters.

Improve your hiring success with Topgrading. Our proven hiring process will transform your selection methodology so that you get better hiring results.  Our leadership and candidate assessment tools will help you assess, hire, retain, and grow outstanding team members. Contact us to learn more!


Brad Smart is the Founder and CEO of Topgrading, Inc. and has conducted over 6,500 interviews over the last forty years.

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