Search firms are a great way to find the best candidate for the job, but that doesn’t mean they should always be your plan A. The majority of the time, you’ll get good results – faster and more efficiently – using your internal recruitment function.

But at higher levels, as the requirements become more complex, speed and efficiency become much less important than finding the best person. That’s where search firms add tremendous value.  A good executive search firm will help you articulate the perfect blend of skills, experience and personality the successful candidate will need to succeed. It might have been 10 years since you hired your last Vice President of Operations, and hopefully it’ll be another decade before you have to do it again. It’s well worth the investment to ensure you’ve precisely defined what your perfect candidate looks like. After all, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found it?

An executive search firm also helps you find the best person by providing access to a wider, deeper pool of potential candidates. For critical roles, there’s a huge difference between an adequate candidate and an outstanding one, so you don’t want to limit your possibilities to the 5 to 10% of people who are actively looking for a new position right now. By proactively seeking out people who fit the profile – whether or not they’re in the market for a new opportunity – search firms provide you with more and better options for high-level positions.

There are other situations where a search firm can give you better results. For highly technical roles or positions that require skills that are in high demand, it may be necessary to actively market your opportunity.  And in situations where your company’s brand or the job’s location isn’t very attractive, search firms can put your job in front of candidates who might not otherwise have considered the opportunity.

There is, of course, a significant cost to using a professional search firm, and that’s usually the main hesitation. But the 25 – 30% you pay is inconsequential compared to the difference in impact the right candidate will make. Hiring the wrong person – at any level – comes at a cost, but if someone’s making million dollar decisions, you can’t afford to hire less than the very best.