Finding a Recruiting Partner

February 14, 2022

In a recent post, I outlined the basic differences between Contingency and Retained search firms. 


Before you pick through the digital pile of pitches from recruiters in your inbox, take a deep breath. You can be discerning and informed with a few simple preparations.


Here’s a framework for how to develop a list of third-party recruiting firms.

  1. Talk to me first. Forgive me a shameless pitch, but you’re reading this aren’t you? I’d be happy to talk to you about your options and determine if my team at Salmela might be a good fit for your search project. I will be open if we are not a good fit and I might know a search firm that would be better for your needs.

  2. Networking: Chances are, your colleagues have worked with a variety of recruiters in the past, either as a candidate or client. Ask people you trust who they’ve worked with. Glowing endorsements and lukewarm shrugs from your peers can tell you a lot about which paths to pursue and which to avoid.

  3. Pay Attention: Recruiters who may be a good fit for you might feel the same already! Take a discerning look at your inbox and direct messages. Recruiters who may be passively marketing to you by commenting on your posts, sending you candidate profiles, and even direct marketing material likely have identified some alignment with your company already. Recruiting firms who are actively marketing usually have their act together.

  4. Put yourself out there: If your personal networking hasn’t revealed any good leads, you can also go broader. A quick LinkedIn post seeking proposals can generate a ton of leads and conversations. Open your door and ask for proposals.

  5. Search on LinkedIn: Just like seeking a candidate for a role, you can find recruiters in the same way. Look at recruiter profiles, paying close attention to the mutual connections you share and who is in their network. For every industry, there is a recruiter who specializes in that niche talent pool. Look for alignments in their connections and the content they post & interact with. If you really want to deep dive, you can search LinkedIn with a boolean search.

  6. Ask your Current Employees: There is no one more invested in attracting top talent to your company than your current employees. If you aren’t asking them for candidate referrals and paying them for successful hires, you should. The same is true leveraging their experience with strong recruiters they have worked with in the past. Don’t feel sheepish about asking them for that referral. You’ll want your team to be involved in the hiring process; bringing in a recruiter with an existing personal and professional bond can help make that eventual partnership far more productive.


Once you’ve filled your calendar with some introductory calls with recruiters, treat the process similarly to a job interview. Below are a standard set of questions you can use to winnow down your pool of contingent and retained recruiters.  (If you need a refresher on the differences between the two services, check out my earlier post.)

Contingency Firms
  1. What is their niche? What percentage of total placements and time are spent working on projects with the same title/candidate expertise of your search projects?
  2. Do they have candidates in play at this time who would fit the search criteria?
  3. What is their process in prioritizing search projects?
  4. What is their average time to fill?


Retained Firms
  1. How many projects do their recruiters work on at one time?
  2. What is their process? Get into the details of how they work and their expectations of your hiring team.
  3. How many niches do they cover? Retained firms tend to cover more industries and titles than contingency firms.
  4. What is their average time to fill?


These questions are just a starting point. You should tweak them as needed, especially if your hiring team has specific concerns. You should also feel empowered to seek references from the recruiters and the same sets of questions could be reframed to their former clients.


This may feel like a big task, but going in as an informed client will absolutely save you the time and frustration of failed searches and languishing open roles.


As always, I’m open for a chat about your needs. Please drop me a line and we can work out what works best for your team.


Cory Salmela
cory@salmelatalent.com - LinkedIn - Txt

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

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