Executive Search

Author Scott Eblin’s book The Next Level offers insights that can be applied to improve executive search.  Scott observes that in order to progress, we must acquire new behavior and habits as we let go of old ones.  Scott explains,

“The whole premise of the book is, as you move into different roles or even if you’re in the same role, the competitive environment or the business situation can change so that the results and expectations are a lot different than what they were before. And it’s like that Einstein quote about insanity: doing things the way you’ve always done them and expecting different results. You almost have to pick up some new behaviors and mind-sets and let go of some other ones.”

It sounds simple enough. What makes it tricky is that frequently we need to discard the very behaviors that made us successful in the past.  For instance, if you’re the “get-it-done” person on a team that works like a maniac and consistently delivers on deadline, then that has likely made you successful.  However, that trait  will experience diminishing returns the further you advance up the ladder.  You will become an executive who is increasingly burned out, lost in the weeds, and hasn’t had the time or energy to develop a coherent strategy.

As I listened to Scott, it dawned on me that not only does his observation make sense for candidates that we recruit and for the recruiters themselves (the micro), but for search practices as a whole (the macro). In order to take talent acquisition to The Next Level, we not only must adopt new “best practices”, but we must also let go of what isn’t working.

And old habits die hard, my friends.  In fact, the bigger the company, the longer they often remain on life-support. Large employers have invested mightily in candidate portals and candidate tracking systems that, while making some things easier, have made other things far more challenging and time-consuming.  The road to Recruiting Hell is paved with unintended consequences. And thus, how we do our work deserves a reset, particularly if we want to do it better next time.

Old Habit: Job Postings
The Internet is a wonderful thing.  And there are candidates out there that deserve the opportunity to apply.  But, it has become a wildly inefficient as more and more unqualified applicants submit their resumes. A number of colleagues now estimate that only 1-to-2% of applicants have the necessary skills and qualifications to move forward as candidates. So, as our eyes grow bleary reviewing curricula vitae of candidates whose qualifications bear no resemblance to the position description, it raises the question, “is this really how we want to be spending our time?” Do we actually want to have 98.5% of our effort wasted for a paltry 1.5% yield? More importantly, job postings leave recruiters powerless as to outcome. We are left hoping, wishing, and even praying that the ideal candidate surfs by the help-wanted ad online and is seized with the impulse to apply. I’m not suggesting that we abandon job postings, but rather think about ways to reduce our dependency. Next time, before taking a detour through the wilderness of wannabes, think about ways to take a more direct route.

Old Habit: Contingency
I have good friends who work at contingency firms.  Most of us do. They work hard and they deliver great candidates. But, (forgive me), that doesn’t make it right: when you get right down to it, the contingency search model is flawed. Its touted as “free” until a placement is made, but mama taught us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Contingency firms must operate opportunistically and so they must abandon searches that are difficult or too time-consuming.  That means that you may think your contingency firm (or firms) are working feverishly to fill your opening when they may actually be doing no such thing: they’ve moved on — because they’ve had to in order to survive economically — without bothering to tell you. They don’t owe you an explanation because, hey, you’re not paying them to recruit.  Worse, when they do find you a great candidate, they shop that candidate to all your competitors.  And while that may seem like a huge conflict of interest, you realy can’t blame them, because, hey, you’re not paying them to recruit. They’re simply trying to increase their chances of making a placement for which they would get paid. To top it off, let’s say you put your search out to contingency, gave it a couple of months and didn’t get the candidate you needed.  What do you do then? Well, you’re now in a serious pickle. You don’t know what to do next because don’t know what’s already been tried. In fact, now that you stop and think about it, you have absolutely no idea what the contingency firms did on your behalf — whom they did and didn’t recruit. They don’t owe you an explanation because, hey, you didn’t pay them to recruit. Not one thin dime. (Some might suggest you got your money’s worth.)  The greatest risk of contingency is that it offers zero due diligence.

What makes breaking old habits for an recruiting organization challenging is that these methods are embedded inside employer processes. Companies direct amazing candidates to apply through the website where they get lost a tsunami of applications, when quality candidates deserve so better than that. For vendor management, a number of employers direct more innovative search firms to sign up with contingency aggregators such as RecruitAlliance. Inevitably, those firms never sign up because it makes no sense: they aren’t contingency. In doing so, employers that are stuck in recruiting ruts lose the chance to work with the very firms that can help raise the bar.  More competitive organizations regularly refresh their talent acquisition processes to capitalize on opportunities to take it to The Next Level.

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