Return to digest

Executive Search- A potentially rewarding experience for all


I am writing this article in the warm haze of one of the highs of the role of an executive search professional.  This was the successful completion of a very complex and difficult search.

It got me thinking that it is still fantastic to be in a role that is as addictive as it was when I started over 20 years ago.  The drive to provide the highest quality service to both clients and candidates and the satisfaction found when you truly are changing people's lives never leaves you and is so rewarding.  Longstanding client relationships are developed.  You also see placed candidates develop and pursue their careers and fulfil their personal objectives.  I still talk regularly to a candidate who I placed as an MD back in 2009.  At the time, he was without doubt the “wild card” choice, through perceived lack of experience. The owner agreed with me on his obvious potential and he is now one of the most respected and successful CEO’s in his sector.  As you can see, I am still “dining out” on that one, but it really resonates with me as an experience and learning point about the process of executive search.

This is undoubtedly and actually positively balanced by the inevitable major lows that come with the job.  As they say, every knock back can truly become an opportunity to learn.  These  experiences are vital if you are to truly become a leader in your field.

This brings me to the executive search process that again still motivates me after many years and multiple projects.  A genuine search is often a leap into the unknown.  You will inevitably be talking to a diverse range of target candidates and trying to find the “magic formula” for your client.  It isn’t just “hit and hope” - it is very hard work, with the added pressure and responsibility of no guarantee of a win.

Finding a list of people to approach should be relatively straightforward with the help of an excellent research team, coupled with your own personal network.  This however is only the start of a process that can take many twists and turns and is extremely time consuming.  Clients need you to show that you truly understand what they need.  This isn’t just about ticking a list of ‘must haves’ from the job description, hoping that if you tick enough you will fill the vacancy.  Is the candidate meeting your client at the perfect intersection of timing / aligned values /ambitions and personal needs?  Indeed, is the candidate truly interested.  Headhunting by nature is an attempt to find the best talent available, not just those who are actively looking for new opportunities.

Do you have the confidence to sit in front of your client and clearly support and articulate the merits of each candidate on your shortlist.  If you can’t, don’t present them!  Having said that, don’t be afraid to challenge.  Your client is employing you as the expert and needs you to advise them: to point out areas of concern, where you think they need to change their views or perspective on a candidate or process.   Some of the best client relationships are created through mutual respect for each other and the ability to have honest and open dialogue.

The client needs to feel that they are engaged, encouraged and motivated by their own involvement in any search you undertake for them.  It is my honest opinion that the days of taking the project away for 6 weeks and only appearing again at shortlist stage are gone!  When you start a project, make sure you truly understand what your client is expecting or indeed needs from you.

I guess the perfect mix for a rewarding process for clients, candidates and consultant is a blend of a number of factors:

  • The consultant’s level of experience and experiences (both positive and negative) and genuine motivation and passion to truly deliver and repay the client’s faith in them.  
  • Leave the candidates feeling that they were treated positively and professionally throughout the process regardless of outcome.  
  • Trust that the client felt that they were properly engaged and motivated to be involved in the process and maybe…..just maybe…..that they enjoyed it!!
Return to digest