Experience: It Sounds Obvious, But
Being experienced in a particular industry can be extremely beneficial, but not all recruiters who originally came from the industry they're now recruiting for can handle all of the additional aspects of matching qualified candidates with suitable opportunities. If they are good at what they do, they will have an understanding of the relevant issues within the industry as well as an in-depth network of colleagues and associates they can call on. Look for an executive search team with not only years of industry experience, but a solid recruiting background as well. Ask for references from other companies they've worked with. If they're good at what they do, they'll be able to give you recent references and contact information.
Ask About How They Conduct Their Searches
The Internet has revolutionized the way many employers find qualified candidates, making it simultaneously easier and more difficult to weed through the reams of online material to get to the gold. An executive search group that relies primarily on Internet databases for qualified leads is only doing half the job. For complete coverage and top drawer candidates, a recruiting firm needs to reach out to their own industry contacts, industry organizations and more. They should also have current data on passive job seekers (individuals who aren't actively looking for a new job, but who would welcome the opportunity to learn more about a potential position). Full coverage executive search means using all of the tools available.
Does The Recruiting Firm Fit Your Company Style?
There are as many kinds of executive search companies as there are upper management and executive level job openings. While larger firms might have more employees, they don't necessarily have greater access to candidates. Many small recruiting firms have reciprocal agreements with other firms or have access to information through affiliate companies across the country and around the world. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will be working closely with a recruiter or recruiters for weeks at a time. Do you prefer working with a single contact person who will guide you every step of the way? Speak up and let any executive search company you're considering know what you will expect from them. Ask how often they will be in touch with you throughout the recruitment process to see if it meshes with your own expectations.
Finally, trust your gut. Not everyone will agree with this suggestion, but in most cases your gut instinct is a reflection of an instinctual reaction. If you're comfortable during the first interview with the members of a recruiting firm, chances are you'll continue to be comfortable with them throughout the process, making things run smoothly for everyone.