Dragging Out Search Assignments: How Slow Can You Go?

Occasionally we engage in a tough search assignment with eyes wide open. Usually it’s not the purple squirrel syndrome but more often than not – a series of client/candidate delays that can usually be avoided.

I, for one, do not like or want to have my firm engaged on the same assignment for 7 months (210 days). That is a really long time – covers nearly 3 seasons of the year and drags down the search team every day they are forced to stare at the same unfilled assignment… I think it boils down being able to control the entire process which includes managing both the client and candidate relationship during a search. Easier said than done. YEP.

Let’s take look at what can go wrong to derail or delay a search assignment:

  • Poor Client Communications – This can go both ways. If the client is partially engaged and it takes them days or weeks to return your phone call, you could find your search in big trouble. Clients engaging a search firm should agree up front to a bi-monthly conference call to keep in touch and stay in tune with what is going on. Delays in hearing from your client often mean you are also delayed in being able to offer feedback to your candidates. Not good. If clients continually ignore your phone calls and requests to communicate you may have to “suspend” the search until everyone involved in the process is “back on-board”.
  • Delays in Scheduling Interviews: This one is a real killer and is highly visible to candidates you may have in your net. It really sends a message as to the importance they place in the search and could leave your candidate wondering why things are taking so long. They could (and have) begin to lose interest and opt out. Not good. NOPE. Make sure you have a go-to-person that owns the scheduling process and stay in touch with them on a regular basis to keep things moving. Time kills deals.
  • No Access to the Hiring Manager: This can kill your search from the start. If you have someone in the middle of your important communications with the hiring manager all bets are off. You have to be able to have a one-on-one discussion with the person your candidate will ultimately be reporting to. This is usually an untenable situation and one that could doom your search since you are talking to a router that is passing (and somewhat diluted) information to and from the source. This is a real time waster in my opinion. If you can’t get access to the hiring manager you might consider giving that search to your competition. I would.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: This is sometimes difficult to read in advance of engaging in a search assignment. Clients can change gears on the ideal candidate they are looking for unless you have them confirm (in writing) the exact profile of the ideal candidate in advance. Even then – they could go sideways and change your job spec. This is where client communications is critical to the success of the ideal outcome. Candid and honest feedback between the client and the search consultant is essential.
  • Relocation This has been a real dilemma in the past 2-3 years as many candidates (like most Americans) are upside-down on the home values. Without a buyer, it is usually a non-starter when it comes to considering relocation. While some candidates are willing to rent or lease their existing homes until the market recovers, many are risk adverse and unwilling to roll the dice on becoming a long-distance property manager. Commuting to/from a new job and being a weekend spouse and parent is not the right answer either. This is a situation that is a bit out of everyone’s control until the markets improve. In the meantime, relocation volume in our practice is way down.

There are countless other ways to slow down a search assignment that are not noted in this post. In fact there are lots of small details that have the potential to blow things out of the water and make you want to pull your hair out.

Controlling the entire process and playing to your strengths is the best advice I can give.

And that may not be enough…

About the author


Tim Tolan

Tim Tolan is the Senior Partner of the Healthcare IT and Services Practice of Sanford Rose Associates. He has conducted searches for CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents of business development, product development and sales. Tim is also the co-author of "The CEO’s Guide to Talent Acquisition – Finding Talent Your Competitors Overlook," available on Amazon.