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Generalist (‘Multi-Specialty’ Firm) versus Specialist Executive Search Firm

Clients often ask search firms how they are different from others.  There are many angles from which to view a given firm’s differentiation—geographic focus, industry sector specialization, and functional focus, to name a few.  However, one of the strongest comparisons can be made between the specialty (or lack of specialty) of the firm, and the impact this has on the level of service, quality, reach, and methodology a firm deploys on behalf of their clients.  When prospective clients try to draw comparisons between firms, some differences are obvious.  Other differences can be more subtle.  Below is a compilation of some of these more subtle differences. 

  • We know everyone in the ‘space’:  Who actually does?  It is the goal of an industry or functional specialist to know everyone in the area (industry or function).  Firms that specialize in a key area can often ‘hit the ground running’ – they know who to call first.  But do they always call the same people?  People move.  Stars in an industry or function rise and fall.  New entrants come in; others exit.  The key to selecting a firm is to understand how they go about their research and reach out. 
  • Original research:  Based on the above point, who is doing research to find the new, moved, promoted or retired people in the function or industry?  As with many ‘rules’ in consulting, specifically search, there is no set industry standard.  Some firms have the Partners perform their own research.  Others ‘farm it out.’  And there are others who have research as part of the local team.  Again, find out. 
  • We have done multiple searches in that area:  Off-limits is a topic rarely talked about.  It can also be one of the topics that angers clients.  Off-limits (the topic of past Blog entries and likely some future ones) is defined as the companies or functions or locations or people that a search firm cannot call.  There is no industry standard or requirement here either.  Each firm makes their own rules.  If I am an industry specialist, who of the competition can I go to for potential candidates?  (Can I 'steal' from client companies?)  The same question applies to functional specialists.  Simply put, this has to be an area for discussion. 

This is a nuance in search that needs to be discussed so that the client (hiring organization) is clear regarding how the search will be conducted and what to expect throughout the life of the search. 

Let’s keep the dialogue going!