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Search Firm Guidelines


The goal of a successful search is to recruit the most qualified and diverse applicant pool available in order to select the best candidate to become a member of the UAB community. This guide has been created as a resource to assist departments when it is determined that the services of a search firm will be needed.

How does a department determine if a search firm is required? A search firm may be beneficial when...

  • The search for qualified candidates is going to be difficult due to the unique job requirements, experience or credentials
  • The level of seniority or uniqueness of the position requires a nation-wide search

  • Role of a Search Firm

    A search firm provides a wide range of recruiting activities including identifying the core responsibilities and qualifications needed for a given role, writing job descriptions, developing a candidate pool, assessing how a candidate's skills, experience and personality match the open position, conducting reference checks and advising on the negotiation process between the organization and the final candidate.


    A search firm's function is to...

    • Identify qualified candidates: A search firm can develop an outreach strategy to identify candidates outside of an organization's common networks. This may include a strategy for placing advertisements, making phone calls and sending emails to uncover new candidates — even those potential candidates not actively job hunting.
    • Coordinate interviews and notify to unsuccessful applicants.
    • Complete tasks within its area of expertise: Many search firms will have a particular expertise that may be focused on a service area (e.g., higher education or healthcare), a budget size, or a function (e.g., executive directors, chief financial officers, chief operating officers, development directors, etc.).
    • Act as an objective participant in the process: Search firm consultants should identify issues as they arise.
    • Free up valuable time of the search committee: Search firms can create useful resume screening and interview tools to save time and create a better outcome.
    • Maintain confidentiality: Sometimes the nature of a search must be confidential in order to avoid publicity of a senior leader's departure. A search firm can conduct a search without sharing the name of the organization. The search firm is also responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of the potential candidates.
  • How to Choose a Search Firm

    1. Build a list of potential search firms

    Often, the first step in the process of selecting a search firm is to talk with colleagues and associates to identify the firms or individual consultants they have worked with in the past. While compiling the list, assess their experiences and ask questions about specific consultants as well as the firm. Typical questions for references may include:

    • What kind of position were you seeking to fill?
    • What impressed you the most about this firm/consultant?
    • How did working with this firm compare to other experiences you have had using search firms?
    • If the search committee drafted a job description prior to the search engagement, how did it differ from the original specification (i.e. what was the contribution of the search consultant)?
    • Did you get quality candidates that you may not have gotten on your own?
    • How well did the search consultant represent your organization to sources and candidates?
    • How accessible was the search consultant?

    2. Determine how the firm builds its candidate pool

    The methodology used to access good candidate talent pools is a point of differentiation between firms. For example, if the position requires someone with specific business skills, the organization will want to understand how the search firm would build the candidate pool, if it has done this type of search before, and how successful it has been. In their assessment, the search committee will want to ask...

    • Is this firm tapped into the networks needed for a successful outcome?
    • Is the firm innovative in its approach in a way that will bring access to a talent pool that would otherwise not be accessible?
    • Who will be working on the search? Will it be only one consultant or will there be a team assigned to build the pool, review resumes, and screen applicants?

    3. Understand how the search firm is paid

    Search firm services typically require an organization to pay a fee that is one-third of the position's salary plus expenses related to the search. However, fees will vary and can often be negotiated depending on the firm's guidelines and type of service provided.

    • In a retained search, the organization commits to work with only that particular firm on the search.
    • Some search firms will offer unbundled services. For example, an organization could hire a firm only for advice on formulating the job description, or developing a candidate pool. Terms of engagement with search firms are usually negotiable.

    4. Final steps...

    • After gathering all relevant information, request references and proposals from your top choices and schedule a follow-up interview.
    • A fully executed contract must be in place before the search begins. EEO information requirements and applicant tracking requirements should be included in the contract.
    • Once an organization has engaged a search firm, please refer to the Organizing the Search Checklist for steps to help the process run smoothly.


    If hiring manager prefers, UAB Human Resources can provide a short list of potential search firms.

  • Search Firm Checklists & Resources

    For your reference, below you will find resources to view and/or print including checklists, the EEO Data Form, Search Firm Summary and the complete Search Firm Guidelines.

    This guide is meant as a resource for those hiring a senior staff member and considering the assistance of a search firm. For information on using a search firm to hire a faculty member, please contact the Office of the Provost.