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Executive Search Should NOT Be A Mysterious Process

For years, I have been making presentations on “How To Work With A Recruiter” for varying groups of executives.  There seems to be a great deal of mystique surrounding what executive search firms do/how we perform our work.  Let’s try to demystify the process a bit. 

As a way to begin, let’s define two critical terms . . . . .

  • Client:  the organization with the leadership opening.  They have decided to hire an executive search firm to assist in finding and hiring a key leader.  The client pays the fee.
  • Candidate:  a qualified person presented to the client for consideration after having been interviewed by the search firm. We “approach” these candidates proactively.  The candidate never pays any fee. 

It Starts With The Client

No organization has ever called us with an easy search and a long timeframe.  We receive calls where assistance is needed in finding a key leader.  There are many reasons we receive these calls, but these are among the most common:

  • The role is simply a challenge - there are not many people in the market with the skill set and industry experience.  Those candidates with the skill set are not easy to find. 
  • The organization has tried to fill the role on their own but was not successful.  This likely included posting the role and networking with current employees.  They may have even made an offer or two (we had one client that made three offers before calling us), but never ‘got to a yes’.
  • The organization does not have the bandwidth to conduct a comprehensive search.  The HR leaders are stretched (or there is no HR leader); conducting a search takes time and effort.  (The desire and skills may be there; time is the commodity in short supply.)
  • Confidentiality is key.  This could be replacing a current employee for varying reasons (retirement, performance, reorganization, etc.).  This could also be an organization that is acquiring a company (not yet announced) and a new leader is needed. 

We Need To Find You - The Candidate

You created a LinkedIn profile and your professional friends have found you.  But you don’t get calls from others.  Your profile is visible but is lost in the sea of other profiles (actually, millions of them). 

Are you working to assure people can indeed find you?  This involves the ‘care and feeding’ of your on-line professional presence.  LinkedIn is not necessarily enough.  Are you professionally active?  Are you part of industry and functional associations?  Are you visible within these groups - other than simply being a member?  Are you adding to professional conversations?  Have you worked to become an opinion leader? 

There Needs To Be A Mutual Fit

Executive search firms review countless biographies found on company websites, professional association listings and even LinkedIn.  Experience and skill sets are key; cultural fit is even more critical. 

  • Search firm communications with candidates, even an initial call and conversation, are indeed actual assessments.  While the call or e-mail exchange is not deemed a formal test, each interaction is part of the process - determining if the candidate is a match for the organization.  This match is both skill-related and culture-related.  The tone of the conversation is as critical as what is said. 
  • Mutual fit includes compensation.  Regardless of how it is ascertained, we need to know if there is a compensation match.  (There are some states where we cannot ask about past salary history; we are aware of each state or municipal law and follow these carefully.)  While you as the candidate may have a wonderful skill set and the organization appears to be a strong match, there are budgets (salary ranges, internal equity concerns, etc.) that exist.  This is a topic we will discuss in some manner. 

The Ideal Match

Search firms are paid a fee to partner with the client in finding and helping hire a great candidate for the open leadership position.  It is art and science; it is working with people.  It is a process with a general path and endless and constantly changing variables. 

The ideal candidate is a person who has the cultural attributes and requisite skills.  This person also sees the opportunity as a fit - to make an impact, to grow in their career, to find a home that fits them well. 

And for better or worse, the process is one that takes time.

  • Time to understand the client needs.
  • Time to identify potential candidates.
  • Time spent on each step in order to assure a mutual fantastic fit. 

Ask Questions Of The Firm That Calls You!  

We can, should and will explain the search process.  Let’s take the mystery out of what can be an amazing journey for the organization (client) to find that key leader; it should also be a fantastic career opportunity and future for the prospective future employee (candidate).