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The Art and Science of Executive Recruiting

March 24, 2010
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Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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The Association of Executive Search Consultants estimates annual net revenues for the U.S. retained executive search industry totaled $2.97 billion in 2009. With such a large investment in finding executive talent, how does an organization capitalize on the knowledge and network of executive recruiters?

Executive recruiting is not an exact discipline, but when done well it is a combination of art and science. They must be able to strike a balance between art (relationship-building, networking, knowledge-sharing and influence) and science (sourcing, research and executive assessment).

The best executive recruiters know which companies to target and are able to use their influence to get hard-to-find passive candidates interested in a company’s opportunities. This influence is critical when multiple organizations are vying for the same talent.

Often, when organizations conduct their own executive search, the time-to-fill metric is much longer. Companies lacking internal capabilities find their recruiting team can get overwhelmed with résumés that are mostly unqualified. It takes them away from filling other key roles, and passive talent is seldom represented in the candidate mix. They rely solely on candidates who respond to their online ad.

An organization that plans to conduct its own executive search needs to answer several questions:

     • Do we have an expert recruiting staff and resources that can mirror the capabilities of a search firm?
• Can your internal recruiting staff identify and mine talent in target companies?
• Do they know the broader talent in this industry?
• Do they know how to get to that talent?
• Do they have research and sourcing subscriptions?
• Do they have a robust applicant tracking system?
• Do they have a holistic recruiting process that includes identification, assessment, acquisition and onboarding?

Raise your expectations
When hiring an executive search firm, expect the following in return for the investment:

• A third-party advisor providing insights into the role and the company’s needs.
• An information broker connected to passive and diverse talent pools.
• A rigorous assessor/coach that takes an analytical approach to assessing skills, benchmarking, and reference checking.
• A partner that shares valuable market data.
• Discretion, confidentiality and mutual trust.
• Manages the process.
• An ambassador for the company.

Avoid recruiters who guard their secrets. Successful recruiters are not afraid to pay it forward even if they know they aren’t always going to get compensated for their help. In this case, knowledge alone is not power; it’s the sharing of knowledge that matters.

The lack of communication that seems to embody some executive recruiters can be frustrating. The recruiter accepts the search, presents a few candidates and then fails to communicate.

Busy hiring executives are partly to blame because they trust that the search is being managed. The fact is, many recruiters fail to properly communicate key milestones, including who they have targeted, who has declined interest and challenges of the search.

Having an involved hiring executive is key, and holding recruiters to a high standard is smart. Hold them accountable for action and consistent follow-up.

Agree on a date when the initial slate of candidates will be presented (about three weeks). Schedule weekly or biweekly update meetings to check progress and review candidates. And most important, schedule a 30-day debriefing to evaluate the viability of the search. If needs change, cancel the search before the second month without owing the full retainer.

You also may want to consider appointing an internal HR executive to manage the corporate executive recruitment strategy. Sometimes opinionated HR leaders dictate which candidates are presented to leadership. HR should act as an unbiased facilitator, not a gatekeeper.

According to industry data, retained search fill rates average 70 percent. Sometimes searches fail because hiring executives don’t know what they want, the company changes direction or recruiters cannot deliver the right talent. The reasons vary, but companies can raise the fill rate by increasing the involvement in managing the search process.

Great executives are hard to find and keep. Building a recruitment strategy that elevates talent management to a high-level corporate priority offers a great base to build a winning team.

Workforce Management Online, March 2010 -- Register Now!

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