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We are not always looking for the best talent in a managerial or executive position. Of course, it’s not politically correct for many companies to admit this, but in general, once an organization has a critical mass of talent, what they really do need are good and faithful “implementers”. We are now referring to structures in phase of moderate growth or maturity, as in the high-growth phases of double-digit or expansion. This may mean that the organization captures extra talent to develop it in the future. Profiles must conform to the economic cycle in which they are required.

Many Key Talent development plans look very good on paper, but when they fail to meet expectations some participants deny them and may even cover up having taken part in them. Why is that?  Generally, because time puts everyone in their place: the company finds out that not all the years accounted for growth and expansion, there  cannot be  promotions for all who deserve them and the employee is faced with many more chances to see if Peter’s Principle really works and has not yet reached his/her level of incompetence.

An obvious solution to avoid the de-motivation problem with these promising talents is not to recruit them in origin. Many readers may be recalling a situation when an external candidate was to be recruited, but the candidate’s profile only required the background and experience needed to be efficient short-term. In this situation some candidates are even discarded for being overqualified. Certainly, no intention to grab the brightest talent with potential from a direct competitor!

Our recommendation to select the correct and most efficient candidate, but not necessarily the most extraordinary in the marketplace, is to use a passive method of recruitment: advertisements in newspapers, portals on the Internet, etc,  as well as a more or less formal network of acquaintances. Among the finalists who meet the requirements for the position, some of them will be motivated for a change (those who have formally applied) and we may have the candidate we want: a good candidate who will offer satisfactory performance for now.

Many recruitment consultancies using different methodologies help to screen the total of applications received in order to present a reasonable quantity to the final client. In this case, consultants compare the profile of applicants with the requirements of the post, without spending extra time or effort to identify other outstanding candidates in the marketplace.   Many of those will be happily employed and the effort to persuade and sell a change to a candidate is much higher than just getting a name and telephone number.

Searching for the best. We often meet exceptional managers. Many of them have grown within their organizations. They lead, optimize, motivate, have vision and anticipate lots of events; we tend to look at them with admiration. And here comes the problem. The best candidates are key professionals in positions with the ability to influence outcomes and they are often subject to specific retention plans. If they are not unsatisfied, they tend not to be actively looking, so the challenge lies in attracting them, more than identifying them.

Direct search, Executive Search or Headhunting is the direct method of recruitment that assures a proactive process with a proven methodology. These Consultants will start by making a map of the function in order to search through blue-chip target companies in any particular field. They will address them one by one to have current and verified information about suitable, available and interested candidates. The client company does not choose the one that fits best among those who have applied, but once the best candidates have been identified; there is a large extent of work containing persuasion and a challenging sale. This cannot be done via internet.

This is the reason why having a professional search firm and an expert interviewing Consultant remain a valuable expert contribution to both parties: the company to attract the best talent available in a key position, in addition to the candidate perceiving the search consultant as a privileged adviser and a punctual coach in a successful project.

The consultants of executive search companies (at least those members of the AESC, but probably others as well) put all their experience, reputation and commitment to be right at the first try providing the value of consultancy – effectiveness and efficiency.

Originally published in Spanish in RH Digital.

senior recruitmentA frequent analogy to the recruitment work is fishing. The result is similar: it is possible to have some fish out of the water but the process to get the right quantity and quality of fish can vary tremendously. The passive methodology is throwing a net (in the adequate place, grid size, time of the day, etc) wait and… keep our fingers crossed! We may find  many different fishes to what was requested, maybe even lobsters or oysters…but not the one needed. If a first attempt fails one has no other choice but to try again (put another advertisement, maybe in a different media, change specs, etc.)

The active methodology is used for rare and difficult species such as octopus, seafood, etc. when you need to “get wet” in order to find, chase and get the right piece. Anyone can see the much higher effort, dedication and specialization put in this active methodology and the example is perfectly valid for Executive Search.

A few years ago, technology allowed to create different internet networks and they have had great acceptance. All of a sudden the “get names” part of recruitment seemed much easier!  Initially social networks, such as Facebook, hi5 or MySpace and then professional networks: LinkedIn, Plaxo, naymz or Xing. Afterwards, even meta search engines such as Zoominfo are used to get information on individuals.  For some junior, technical and middle management positions, the results of  some employment portals like Monster  have been -and are- impressive: fast, effective and cheap. However, for senior positions the “validate these names” part, by objective, methodological and professional referencing is crucial and very necessary.

But there is still another very important -increasingly nowadays- part of the job change process; let’s call it “convince me why that job is better than my current”. Obviously, if we are approached by a well-known, solid and glamorous corporation for a position that holds more responsibility and remuneration we do not need much advice…but is it that always the case? 

Experience proves that a senior search consultant (headhunter) will be cost-effective to attract experienced talent. Experienced in board responsibilities, or in developing new markets, or in merging structures, or in turnarounds, or in “rain-making”…  A headhunter starts a search mandate by defining the target-companies list: where is it more likely to find the right candidates. Then, he or she will discreetly get exhaustive spontaneous referencing from peers. He or she will assess all candidates considered and analyze who would perform best in his client’s challenge. Finally, he or she will devote time and expertise to discuss with the incumbent why that particular challenge may be a good idea, particularly if one was not thinking about a move. It is also here, where personal consultancy shows a big added value vs. technology-only.

So my modest recommendation is that if you need a senior executive with skills that may be scarce in the marketplace, who would likely be happily employed and therefore be difficult to attract, then you need a retained executive search firm (headhunter). If you think there may be plenty of that type of candidate in the marketplace motivated for a change, then throw your net and… Buena Pesca!

When one considers a new recruit for an organization, a key decision is what recruitment methodology would be the right one.

A first intuitive driver points to the network of colleagues and acquaintances. This is a natural decision and works well for more than half of the times. However, the higher you go in the organizational hierarchy (up to the board) the less outstanding available executives you will know.

The acid test then for the company is to hire or not a recruitment firm, that is: to spend money on external help or managing the recruitment internally. If an organization decides to hire an external firm is thereby stating that the position is senior and important and they want to avoid making a mistake. The organization may be either too busy, understaffed or, -desirably- giving value to the consultancy contribution of the external firm. In terms of outsourcing services it means recognizing that somebody “out there” can be specialized and complete the recruitment process in a more professional, objective  and efficient way that oneself.  

The methodology possibilities are:

* An interim (renting an employee) agency can be quick and effective with some technical jobs. Pro: after an agreed period, the candidate may join the company, which knows well who is buying. Con: how many really good candidates will be out there willing to accept an interim job? And interim employment is less than popular in some countries…

* Selection by advertisement. Historically in the newspapers and now with the on-line portals, the system is the same. It is passive and the recruiting organization will only get candidates who are at that precise moment interested in a new challenge. One may certainly get good candidates (and that may be enough) but will never be sure if it is the best candidate available.

* Then we have the only active methodology: direct search. Recommended when the recruiting organization wants an executive who must bring a senior background and track record, so that  1) he or she is likely to have a similar or slightly inferior position in a direct competitor company  2) he or she are successful, and will possibly be happily employed, therefore, not replying to job ads or interested in a move. 

Direct search is worldwide known as headhunting and must be carried out by retained executive search consultants. The next question is: Why retained and not contingency, that is, firms which will only get paid when and if they produce the final candidate? And the answer goes implicit with the question: how much dedication and energy would anybody put in a project if they know that it is likely it may be done for free?

The value of a seasoned, experienced headhunter is the value of personalized consultancy. He or she will give a client the input from the marketplace, the perception of potential candidates about our company and other players and most important: will be a senior consultant devoting personal time to persuade the best talent in the marketplace that our professional challenge fits their expectations and ambitions. New technologies and social networks are a new way to get many names and positions, but the personal value of human appraisal (personal interviews) cannot be done by machines (yet).

Retained search firms have an Association www.aesc.org that has been defending the values of this professional form of Consultancy for 50 years now. Members are only admitted after an audit of procedures and must follow a strict Code of Conduct. They also edited the first Client’s and Candidate’s Bill of Rights.

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