What to Ask When Interviewing a Recruiting Firm?


Hiring a search firm is a big decision, especially for a startup where every hire counts. When a Founder or Hiring Manager is evaluating 2-3 search firms to choose from, here are the questions we recommend asking to make an informed decision. We have listed SwingSearch’s answers as a benchmark.


Q: What is your company known for, and what do you specialize in?

A: SwingSearch is the go-to search firm for VC-backed and/or high-growth companies. As a team, we cover all functions, with specific Partners to recommend based on the industry and role. 70% of our work is in Go-To-Market leadership. Unlike many search firms, we have teams that can cover all levels of searches, from individual contributors (your first EAE) to Chief Marketing Officer. This is why so many of our clients stay with us for multiple roles; once you have found the right Partner, stick with it! 

(Fwiw, we do not place Software Engineers or Senior UX Designers. We also have limited experience recruiting post-IPO; our expertise is VC-backed and PE-backed companies.)

Q: How will you approach my search? What will your strategy be?

A: We have a detailed 6-step process with specific timelines and milestones (Ask for this piece of collateral if you haven’t received it already). Within the first week of the search, you will receive a personalized Strategy doc that outlines search parameters, recommended target lists, a scorecard and calibration candidates specific to what your unique needs are.

Note: The question is specifically not, “How good is your network for this search?” Networks are important to be able to reach the right candidates but they are only part of the big picture. We believe each search should be approached with fresh eyes, fresh research and not just a networked-approach. 


Q: What other similar roles have you done? 

A: This is (or should be) a softball question for any firm you are talking to. Recruiters are naturally curious people, so they may not stay in one lane, though they should be able to give examples of relevant past work by function and industry. A bonus is when the recruiting team has members that have been in the role themselves (former operators), as they can more deeply qualify the candidate. 


Q: Who will be working on the search and actually talking to candidates?

A: Good question because you want to make sure there is not a switch-bait from sale to search execution. At SwingSearch, you will meet your dedicated team before contract is signed and likely on Call #1. Your team will entail: 

  • Stakeholder:  An experienced Partner or Managing Partner who is responsible for the success of your search and accountable for the overall search strategy and quality. This person also qualifies SVP + C-level candidates. 
  • Sourcer: Career-driven search scientists. Our Sourcers are not recruiters in training, they are deeply entrenched in research and market intelligence and are research professionals
  • Recruiter: A Principal, Director or Associate Partner (depending on level of role) reporting into a Stakeholder will work to engage the right candidates, qualify them and make sure they have a white-gloved experience associated with your brand. 

Each of these 3 team members will be on your Weekly Check-ins


Q:  How many searches will you be working when you take on this role?

A:  At SwingSearch, our Recruiters take on no more than 4 roles at a time. 

This is about half the industry average. Many of the firms we compete with have Recruiters working on 7, 10, 15 roles at a time. This is unsustainable and doesn’t allow sufficient focus on your search.


Q: What is your fill time for a role like this?

A: This question is a helpful litmus test in how data-driven the firm is. The firm you choose should be able to provide examples of fill times for the function and/or level you are looking to fill. At SwingSearch, our average fill time over the past two years is 12 weeks with a median of 11 weeks. By level of role:

  • Individual Contributor: 11 weeks
  • Director / Head of: 10 weeks
  • VP: 12 weeks
  • C-level: 14 weeks


Q: How will we communicate once the search is in the market?

A: Communication is one of the most important things in a search, as is time. We will adapt to your preferences and systems, so long as we are communicating on a daily and weekly basis. Here is what we do with most clients: 

  • A shared Slack channel
  • Access to our Applicant Tracking System (Clockwork)
  • Weekly Status Calls + Weekly Email Recaps
  • Access to your calendar (and team) for scheduling
  • Text messaging if you prefer


Q: Do you track your Client Feedback Score? What about your candidate feedback score?

A:  Yes, we do. Our Client Feedback Score for 2022-2023 is 9.5 and for candidates it is 9.6.


Q: Who is on your Do Not Poach list? 

A: We do not recruit from companies that have been our clients in the last 12 months. If we have a conflict of interest, we will let you know. The larger the search firm, the larger their ‘Do Not Poach’ list is likely to be (a disadvantage). 


Q: What are your fees? 

A: Fees in this industry range widely, as does quality of service. For SwingSearch, our prices are mid-range and is why so much of our business is referred from VC partners; we have the quality and price point they can trust.  That said, we do not recommend shopping by price for a search partner; the importance of quality, brand representation, vetting top-talent and communication is too high for this to be a price-based decision.  What is important is that the overall fees are transparent. 

Here is what we recommend you ask so there are no ‘gotcha’ moments.

  • Will the fee be fixed or variable? (Depends on role)
  • Do you require or take equity as an option? (No to both. Equity is too precious, save it for team-members!)
  • Are there additional fees for access to the Applicant Tracking System or for developing candidate collateral? (No.)
  • What is the payment schedule? (Typically Day 0, 30, 60 and remainder at search completion)
  • What is the ‘guarantee’ on this search? (Depends on role.)


Q: Anything I’m not asking?

A: We love this question. Based on our first call, we’ll have an understanding of what you’re not asking or expecting that you should be. The right firm will deliver value here and act as a trusted advisor and doer.


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