Headhunter finds a name Success: A Columbia firm that specializes in professional jobs takes a new name.

November 23, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

This week, Search Connection LLC takes on a new identify to match its aggressive expansion plans for the East Coast.

The Columbia professional recruiting firm, founded as Search Consultants by Mike Bogdan, David Hall and Chad Houck, specializes in information technology, accounting and finance, and health care placements. The three founders all worked at a national recruiting company before launching their own company in 1993.

The company decided on the name change because the partners thought Search Consultants was too generic -- especially in an industry of about 20,000 firms nationwide.

"We don't want other companies getting business based on our reputation," said Houck, a certified public accountant who runs the firm's financial and health care recruitment divisions.

With $5.7 million in revenue last year, Search Connection has built a name for itself in its home territory of Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

This year, two business publications ranked it as the No. 1 professional search firm in the Baltimore area and No. 3 in Washington, based on the number of professionals placed with salaries over $35,000.

With about 125 clients in the Baltimore-Washington area, Search Connection placed 426 workers at an average salary of $58,000 last year.

The company typically places computer programmers, database managers, network engineers, chief financial officers, accountants and auditors -- positions that pay between $45,000 and $250,000.

The company's fee is 30 percent of the worker's first-year salary, which is typical for the industry.

The secrets of success are simple, the partners said.

"It's a relationship business," said Bogdan, who heads the company's information technology recruitment division with David Hall. "We're not interested in quick placements. We like to make sure candidates are qualified and are a good fit for the client."

"We use the short-term vs. long-term philosophy," said Hall, a former computer systems analyst. "We're not a vendor who throws resumes at clients."

But once the firm starts to push into other states, its reputation may be obscured among thousands of firms.

"It's a challenge in the staffing industry to break into a new market. Geographic growth is challenging, but by no means impossible. It could work," said Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, a trade group in New York.

The $10 billion personnel recruitment industry -- which is made up of firms that search the marketplace on behalf of employers looking for skilled job candidates -- has been surging for years now, first fed by the corporate downsizing of the early 1990s and now by a tight labor market.

The recruitment industry banks on the fact that employers have a hard time finding highly skilled candidates on their own.

"The sheer volume of business the industry is handling today is far greater than five years ago," said Terry Petra, chairman of the National Association of Personnel Services, a trade group in Alexandria, Va. "The sales dollars are 70 percent greater than five years ago."

But, Petra added, "There's a lot of competition within the staffing industry itself and from the Internet."

Search Connection's partners said they see the competition as an invitation, not as an omen.

The firm's goal is to open a new office in another city -- targets include Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York and Chicago -- in the next 18 months or so, with eventual expansion into the others. Each new office would have at least 10 recruiters and some cities could have multiple offices.

As a trial run, the company opened a three-recruiter office in McLean, Va. in the spring, bringing the number of Search Connection employees to 50.

The exercise revealed some kinks in the system, all of which will be worked out in the next year and a half, the partners said.

Focusing its expansion on the East Coast is a good business move, the partners said. According to the Association of Executive Search Consultants, the Northeast accounted for 32 percent of all executive search activity in 1997.

And continuing demand for their product -- hard-to-find skilled candidates -- means there's more than enough room for their expansion, the partners said.

Professional recruitment "is a hot industry," Bogdan said. "This is a business where there's a lot of money to be made and no barriers to entry. And then there are an awful lot of jobs out there chasing too few people."

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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