I’ve noticed something. When people call to ask me about doing a search for them, they are often grasping for questions to ask.

It’s understandable. A search partner is an unusual mix:

  • Part brand ambassador: Your search partner will have hundreds of conversations on your behalf. With each conversation, they will build your brand — or detract from it.
  • Part tour guide: You are engaging someone who should know their domain inside and out, and can lead you to the top people to meet in that domain.
  • Part personal shopper: You bring on a search partner for their judgment and taste, leading to a match that’s just right for you and your business.
  • Part shrink: You can spend a lot of time with your search person. You can go through some emotional ups and downs. They will help you make a decision that will have a huge impact on your business.

Here are some of the best questions I’ve gotten that have led to the most productive conversations. May these be helpful to you.

Tell me about how you navigated through your hardest search. What made it hard? Why? What did you learn?

Search is a craft, and you want someone who reflects and learns as they go. And someone who leans in, even to the hard searches. (And in marketing, searches can be hard!)

How will you save me time?

Only one person has ever asked me to articulate this, though it is a key benefit of having a search partner.

Tell me about the value that the people you have placed have contributed to their organizations.

This speaks to the long-term impact and the ‘quality of hire’ metric.

How will you market this role?

A search person is someone who will market and sell on your behalf. Get a sense of how they will do that, and whether it resonates with you.

What is the difference between good and great for this role?

If a search person can’t articulate the difference between ‘blah’ and ‘bling’ to you, how can they do that FOR you when talking to candidates?

How excited are you about doing this search, relative to others? Why?

You don’t want someone who is just going to phone it in; you want someone who is uniquely excited about helping you with your role.

What makes a good client?

You play a role in a successful outcome too. Learn how you can be a good steering wheel, as opposed to a brake.

Now, here are the most common questions I get. These aren’t bad, but don’t tend to give as much mileage as the others.

How long will it take?

A fair question, especially when you’re looking for a leader who can quickly drive revenue. But beware of focusing more on speed of hire than quality of hire. If you want to get the equivalent of Tom Brady for your team, do you care as much if it takes a couple weeks longer? Or are you focused on the long-term benefit – winning the Super Bowl time and time again?

How much will it cost?

Another fair question. It’s important to get a reality check on how much top talent costs. Again, though, beware of looking more at the transaction costs than at the ultimate value of a 10x player on your team.

What did you do yesterday that was really similar to my search?

Naturally, you may be very interested in the finalists from a recently-completed, similar search. But remember that someone who is a good fit for a competitor may be altogether wrong for your needs or your culture.