Thought Leadership


Deffet Group’s thought leaders regularly produce educational content, keeping our firm current on industry trends and research in aging services, human services, and best practices in not-for-profit executive search. Our senior leaders participate as regular attendees and presenters at national and state-level LeadingAge and other not-for-profit association conferences. To discuss how our firm can provide your organization with personalized educational sessions for board members and senior leadership teams, please contact Elizabeth Feltner at


5 Key Questions to Help Select an Executive Search Firm

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D.

Our initial advice to hiring authorities seeking new management leadership is to select an executive search firm as carefully as they would a new CEO, for one will inevitably lead to the other. These key questions offer a starting point in the process of evaluating search consultants.

1. Will they begin with your end goals in mind? The firm should develop a well-defined position specification, which describes all anticipated short-term and long-term growth, as well as personality characteristics and the corporate culture. Capturing and communicating the vision for this position will be the difference between developing intrigue or incurring rejection from a prospective candidate.

2. What is the consultant’s knowledge of the industry? Your consultant ought to be familiar with current trends, future challenges, competition, etc. Make sure the firm has researched the personalities, challenges, and goals of your organization and has recruiting experience in that specific area. If they cannot engage in intelligent conversation with busy, ambitious professionals who are leaders in the industry, they will only attract the most-available, not the best-qualified. Do the consultant’s client references confirm his or her experience and knowledge?

3. What search strategy and methodology will be utilized? Don’t accept a vague or ambiguous response to your inquiry. Have they targeted their research to include membership associations, publicly-traded companies, mission-oriented organizations, forward thinking regional providers, and public accounting firms that specialize in these areas? Is it a bona fide search, with an emphasis on proactively developing a database from current market information, or is it a passive matter of digging questionably-qualified applicants out of a drawer full of résumés or off the Internet? Do they take relocation obstacles out of the picture by initially saturating the local market?

4. What evidence will you have of the consultant’s effort? Request a regular report of quantifiable labor by the firm on your behalf. One type of this report may indicate in broad terms what sources have been tapped, how many presentations of your opportunity have been made, and what the response has been to those presentations. A more detailed summary should contain the name, title, organization, and results of each contact. Not only will this provide you with an accountability mechanism, but this is also a real market survey regarding your opportunity. For example, what objections continually resurface? Are they relevant to location, industry, culture, potential, compensation, etc.?

5. What is the level of commitment and perseverance from the firm? A finalist candidate resulting from 100 industry contacts will be better qualified than a finalist candidate that would result from 30 contacts. A "finalist candidate" from one firm may not make another firm’s short list. Keep in mind that the fees charged by firms vary only slightly regardless of the quality of service, but the wasted opportunity of a marginal hire can exponentially offset any savings in fees.

Just as no two architects, attorneys, or accounting firms are alike, the same can be said for search firms. We understand the significant impact that competent, enthusiastic search consultants can have on the success of a business. At Deffet Group, Inc., we believe that a search firm should be evaluated as thoroughly as any other vendor, and that providers should consider a firm’s methodology, philosophy, professionalism, and ethics.

About the Author
Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D. photo

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D., is Vice President of Deffet Group, Inc. She works collaboratively with clients nationwide to identify and retain executive leaders and advance organizational success. An accomplished public speaker for employers and national conferences, frequent topics include succession planning, on-boarding, and leadership development.