Selecting And Evaluating A Research Firm

Successful placement firms use an effective tool that enables them to conduct and complete more assignments. Once perceived as the sole property of retained search companies, candidate research has become a powerful addition to the arsenal of 21st century recruiting firms. Some forward thinking practitioners not only have in-house researchers but also sell candidate research to their clients. Others purchase research from the host of candidate research firms around the country. (Ken Cole’s Recruiting and Research Report publishes a national directory of independent researchers (; 850-235-3733).This month we’ll present some considerations about selecting and evaluating a candidate research firm. Sad to say there are some candidate research companies that promise the moon, take any kind of assignment, guarantee turnaround in five days or sooner, and submit a research report that is far off the mark. I save the brochures of firms that advertise their candidate research capabilities. I’ll quote from one very lengthy brochure to give you an idea of the wide array of candidate research services.This company provides many bells and whistles with their services but their brochure is a little confusing. Look especially at the fee structure. Most firms have a much simpler approach.”Name Generation. We will provide you with the name, company name, title and telephone number of the person(s) that meet your job requirements from your competitors.$50 Names ServiceMinimum 20 names Total Cost: $1,000Receive the first candidates in 24 hours from the time we start the project.Time to completion is typically 5 business days.Profiling. With the Profiling Service you will receive much more information about each and every candidate. Besides the name, company name, title and telephone number you will also receive a profile which includes the number of years in the industry and at their current company, their education and answers to specific questions about their skill sets and direct work experience that may qualify them for your position.Profiling Service: Simple Profile – $300 Profile ServiceMinimum 7 profiles Total Cost $2,100Receive the first candidates in 48 hoursTime to completion is typically 10 business daysBasic Profile – $500 Profile ServiceMinimum 7 profiles Total cost $3,400.Receive the 3 first candidates in 48 hours from the time we start the projectTime to completion is typically 10 business daysAdvanced Profile – $750 Profile ServiceMinimum 7 profiles. Total cost $5,250Receive the first candidates in 48 hours from the time we start the project.Time to completion is typically 10 business daysQuick Response Profile – $750 Profile ServiceMinimum 4 profiles. Total cost $3,000Receive the first candidates in 24 hours from the time we start the project.Hourly Contract Projects$90 an hour Profile ServiceMinimum 80 hours. Total cost $7,200Receive the first candidates in 48 hours from the time we start the project2 researchers will be assigned to work on your projects.”As you read this excerpt your reaction may be “caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware! There are many other samples available but you get the idea. So, then, how do you evaluate a candidate research firm?Candidate research firms abound. I’m sure that even Ken Cole’s national directory has slimmed down during the recession. Here are a few guidelines for selecting and evaluating a research firm:

  • Interview the person from the research firm who will be responsible for your project. The interview does not have to be in person but make sure that all your questions are answered and your concerns explained. Make sure that both you and the research firm agree on the objectives, information requested, time frames, and details of the project.
  • Describe your project in detail. Ask the researcher whether or not he/she has completed a similar project. If he/she has, get the details. If not, this is not necessarily a red flag but it means that you have to do more probing and ask more questions. Get a description of similar projects that she has completed. Make your evaluations.
  • Determine up front what information the research report should contain. Ask to see a sample research report. The research report or, better stated, the information that the research report contains, separates the effective research firms from those that fill their reports with meaningless details. The information you want should be spelled out specifically in the research contract.
  • The research report should be presented in a simple, direct manner and ready for your recruiters to use. Remember: candidate research is a tool to facilitate the recruiting process and make it possible for your recruiters to make more placements. One candidate research firm in the Northeast provides their research report in spreadsheet form. Such a format provides the information in a pragmatic, effective, and user-friendly format. A final note about the research report: get the report in electronic form. This makes it easier to enter it into your database and retrieve for future assignments.
  • Ask the candidate researcher if he/she would be willing to work with you on a test assignment. You design the project and get the firm to work on it for 10 hours without any cost to you. Make it the actual project that you have in mind. Do not give the firm any target companies; ask them to develop a list of companies that they feel are good target companies. Tell the firm that if the test project is successful, you will pay for the 10 hours and roll it into the contract.
  • Find out if there are any companies that are “off limits” to the candidate research firm. Get a detailed listing of their recent research projects. How many interviews resulted from the projects? Were there any hires? How many projects were successful? How many were not successful and why?
  • Ask about their process and how you will work together. Insist on timely and frequent progress reports. Set due dates, objectives, and turnaround times. Get references. Negotiate a contract that is mutually beneficial.
  • View the research firm as a partner, a member of your extended staff. Share detailed information and be available to answer questions and give direction. A research report has a very short shelf life about three weeks. Use it right away or it is wasted.

If your company has in-house candidate researchers, or if you use independent research firms, you should be familiar with the Executive Search Roundtable ( ESR was founded in 1979 and continues to provide a unique perspective on the knowledge and skills of the executive search execution and research. Through a variety of programs and services ESR provides best practices, professional development and networking opportunities.

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Frank X. McCarthy is Partner in Charge of Diversity Practice with The Corporate Source Group. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. He founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached:


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