By Molly Norton
The Most Critical Component of an Executive Search Takes Place Before the Search for an Executive
From Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google and author of Work Rules:
“Superb hiring isn’t just about recruiting the biggest name, top salesperson, or cleverest engineer. It’s about finding the very best people who will be successful in the context of your organization, and who will make everyone around them more successful.”
In today’s highly competitive business environment, companies cannot afford to make a less-than-optimal choice when it comes to filling mission-critical leadership. A well-suited and high-caliber hire can also have a multiplier effect on a business.
To greatly increase the probability of search success, finding and engaging the right executive search partner is the most important first step in any executive search. Ideally this partnership is forged prior to a need arising so that an organization is a step ahead of the current talent-driven market.
There are a veritable plethora of reasons why it’s critical to engage the right search partner, but here are the most important:
- The search firm is the first exposure that your best, most ideal candidate will have to your firm. It is critical that your brand is presented professionally, sincerely, authentically, and ethically.
- They must make candidate experience a top priority – as it reflects your organization and the way it’s viewed in the market.
- The search firm should study and solidly understand the organizational culture and keep that as the North Star that guides the search.
- The search firm needs to effectively sell the best candidate on the virtues of your company: its vision, its future, its culture, its mission, and its peer executive team. This can only be done with a firm that has put in the time upfront to listen, learn, and partner well with your team. These skills are essential because, again, the right candidate is going to have a multiplier effect on your business (which is a whole separate article unto itself).
- The search firm should make your job easier, not more difficult. They must not burden you with all the work of screening an endless flood of resumes in the hopes that something might stick.100% of the resumes you receive should be from highly qualified candidates.
- The search firm should know how to formulate tailored offers for the best candidate; this means they must understand the candidate on a deeper psychological and cultural level than just their skills and education.
Because executive searches are typically a blend of art and science, and are inherently iterative, the most successful executive search firm partnerships require deep levels of trust, candid and frequent feedback, honest and open communication, and strong commitment to ensure successful outcomes.
Top search firms have three easily recognized characteristics:
- A proven and codified search methodology with analytical tools and high placement and long-term retention rates.
- A thorough, up-front effort to understand your strategic vision and corporate culture, industry, technology, and organizational objectives before developing and executing on a search strategy.
- A sincere interest in people and understanding who they are and what makes them tick.
When interviewing potential executive search firm partners, here are some qualifying questions you might consider asking:
- Do they have expertise and a track record of success hiring talent in your specific industry? Do they understand your competitors and the industry ecosystem in which you operate? Do they understand your unique market challenges? Search firms can have broad expertise, but successful ones have sharp focus and don’t try to be all things to all people.
- Do they have a broad, trusted network of people in your area and industry? Have they worked internationally? Anyone can reach out to people through social media, but does your firm have a trusted network that they can leverage to champion your brand?
- Do they have strong references? Do they have a large number of repeat customers, case studies and transformative client successes?
- Do they have an appreciation of and track record of hiring for diversity?
- Do their search consultants have decades of experience in the business world? Have they worked as hiring managers and/or HR professionals before focusing on executive search? Do they have an understanding of particular HR laws as they relate to recruitment that will keep your firm out of legal hot water? Are their search professionals also technology and finance experts with first-hand experience in these functions?
- What is the average retention rate for their hires and length of tenure vs the national average?
- Do they have a strong team that works synergistically? It’s important to vet anyone who will be representing your brand in the search. After all, your search team is representing you to many high-caliber executives and must impress. They must be able to articulate, and accurately and authentically represent your value proposition without presenting as a slick salesperson. They must speak the language of your industry. Your executive search partner will be an extension of your sales and marketing team and the best search professionals will also be creating dozens of new potential customers for your product / service / brand.
- Are they creative in how they conduct their searches or are they consistently fishing in the same spot? Are they just pulling resumes from a stale applicant tracking system (ATS)?
Finding the right strategic search partner that meets the criteria and leverages the strategies above prior to a critical executive search will set the stage for great success.
And here’s to great success!
“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” ~ Lawrence Bossidy