Putting on the same jersey doesn’t make you a team… How to team up with executive search firms!

Written By: Mark Burkley, Integrated People Solutions

I recently read a neat article by Carlie-Anne Fairlie about myths surrounding executive recruiting. While it was a good article, it quickly made me realize how basic some of the gaps are in the general understanding of what a strong executive recruiting partner can bring to the table.

The points that Carly-Anne makes are spot on with regard to how a person out in the market might be ignorant in their understanding of the industry, and it led me to think about another key aspect that has been written about many times, yet startles me when I encounter it within industry.

The lack of understanding and myths that are carried on within the internal teams in our client companies are often extensions of the myths in this article. These myths, or perceptions of what a search firm does, can easily lead to a disconnect in expectation and quite thoroughly render a search ineffective. Beyond this they can sour a relationship and perpetuate the myths themselves based upon the experience from the client’s perspective.

Often times, the executive or HR team that brings on a search firm knows exactly how the game is run, and has a fairly clear expectation of what the firm will provide. That being said, the hiring managers or others downstream, do not have experience with retained search, and can have a very different understanding and expectation. This gap can run from very narrow to extremely broad and can cause the perceived value of the search to drop rapidly until a negative overall perception is the result.

While many books could be written, (and have been), about this subject, I wanted to outline a few very high level concepts that could be used by a firm to minimize the ability for a search to derail because of these perception gaps.

1) The entire team, top to bottom, must have a clear understanding of the role of the search firm, and ideally understand the timing and process, in order to get the best value and efficiency from the search.

Too often the hiring managers are the most beleaguered people in the game with the most time pressure upon them. They clearly have an important gap in their ranks and are often spread thin. If they believe that the search firm will simply be lobbing resumes at them to deal with in their own fashion, then they might not be as inclined to make time for the update calls, be prepared to respond and react to the candidates as they emerge from the search firm’s process, or provide cogent feedback. A lot of money and time can be wasted quickly.

2) The team must be engaged and responsive, and provide timely and detailed feedback so that the search is actually going after what they want.

This in interrelated to number 1, but really is critical in its differences. The search firm’s eyes are the company team. Without feedback they rely on the intake meeting(s) only. Most searches mature or evolve as they run their course, and lack of engagement or proper timely feedback cause that maturity to stall. If it goes too far, the company team further disengages, as they perceive the search firm has no clue, and the search firm becomes mired, as they cannot know the next steps to take without knowing what needs to change. They end up either in the rat wheel, repeating what was not working for the company team, or in a bring-me-a-different-rock scenario, where they present candidates who get denied, but without clear feedback to adjust. There are a lot of rocks on the beach, and if I ask you to bring me the right one, I better be prepared to fill in the details.

3) The team must know what they want and be clear as a group about what those key traits are for a successful candidate.

As you can see, #3 is related and an extension of #2. If the company team has not aligned on what the goal of the position and those critical measurements of the ideal candidate are, the search team will bring forth people who are good by one measure and poor by other measures. They will be ineffective in the search because of the confusion, or in a constant re-start as they attempt to adjust to opposed feedback. Its great to have the company team engaged and providing input, but not when it is conflicting or constantly adjusting input. Take the time to know what you want and the ability of the search team to find the best of market quickly will result.

In my experience, initial awareness and focus on these critical items have been the difference between clients feeling pleased with results and seeing true value in engaging a search firm, or the varying degrees of the opposite.

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