Executive Search – how does the process work?

While used extensively in some industries – finance for example – the Advertising and Marketing Industry often uses “contingency recruitment” i.e. no hire no fee, to hire at even the most senior level.  Often HR or Management will reject retained search as being “too expensive” perhaps without fully understanding what they are saying no to. Not every search firm works in an identical way of course but the following methodology is fairly standard. And I can confirm that it works….!

Step 1.

The client company agrees to work exclusively with a search consultant or firm. They also agree that if during the search process they are directly introduced to a suitable candidate they will introduce that candidate in to the process via the search firm – in other words the client does not compete against the search company for the placement.

If it is agreed that the campaign will benefit from recruitment advertising alongside the search, the client’s identity and branding will be displayed. Print or online media advertising in trade publications are billed back to the client. The search company will handle all response to the advertising.

Step 2.

The search consultant will carry out extensive research, analysing the marketplace, gathering feedback and putting together a target list of potential candidates from industry reports, news sources, Linked In, networking etc.  The starting point for this list would normally be a collaboratively agreed list of companies where the target candidates are most likely to currently be working.    One of the key points of executive search is that it is a collaborative, transparent process where the client is given reports throughout the campaign.  It therefore pays to choose a search consultant who demonstrates a broad and deep understanding of your particular market and the current trends within in it.
The list is then whittled down – informal referencing and client company input play a big part here. Once the shortlist is compiled and agreed with the client the search firm will make discrete approaches to the candidates.

Step 3.

The initial phone call is simply to establish if the candidate is open to a more detailed conversation, usually out of working hours.   Telephone pre-screening interviews for those who have agreed to this conversation will then assess suitability for, and interest in the role.  At this stage several candidates will normally be disqualified as not senior enough, too expensive, not commercial enough etc .   Equally many candidates will disqualify themselves if not sufficiently interested.

Happy, successful executives while interested enough to take the call will rarely be looking to move unless your opportunity is something which provides a genuine professional and personal step forward. Normally the client’s identity would not be disclosed at this stage.  The consultant is aiming to keep as many suitable candidates in the process as possible and pre-conceived ideas about the client company could derail things at this stage – full disclosure is much better left to the face to face interview stage for this reason.

This conversation represents a balancing act and different head hunters have different approaches but the overall aim is to draw as much information from the candidate and establish a match or disqualify where appropriate.

Step 4

The new “shorter list” will then result in face to face consultant/candidate interviews and full disclosure of the client and the Job Spec.  This meeting serves to check for “cultural fit” as well as for the candidate to develop their trust in the consultant and for the consultant to go through the final checks for suitability and interest in the role.  They are also of course able to represent your company in a positive light. A well handled executive search campaign is a PR excercise among your industry peers as well as a hiring strategy. In any industry the top talent swims in a very small (and often highly talkative!) pool and brand reputation of a client organisation or individual need to be carefully managed.

Step 5

Submission and agreement of final short list of candidates along with consultant interview notes.  Remember the benefit of executive search is that it is a highly controlled process with a continuous flow of information (usually in the form of weekly reporting)  between client and consultant. The  final short list should not come as a sudden surprise to the client!

Step 6

Client/candidate interviews leading to successful hire. The consultant will usually co-ordinate interviews and take feedback, assess levels of interest (both client and candidate) and negotiate offers, handle counter offers etc.  Remember meeting the perfect person for your job is not the end of the process – securing, hiring and retaining that person in to the role is what you and your search consultant are both aiming for.

When should you consider using it?

It works well for hard-to-fill roles and where there are likely to be a relatively small number of often senior level professionals in the industry who would be suitable for the job.  It also delivers in a relatively short time frame – usually around 8 weeks – where contingency recruitment can take significantly longer between brief and hiring for a role – and also involves a great deal of early morning and evening interviewing before the client finds the right person. Remember throughout the campaign the consultant will ONLY be talking to the candidates about your company and role – not marketing top quality individuals to several of their clients as they would do if it was a contingency recruitment assignment.

The consultant is effectively working as a member of  your in-house hiring team during the course of the retained assignment.

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Claire Griffin on LinkedIn