Idiotic Questions Not to Ask Executive Search Firms

Idiotic Questions Not to Ask Executive Search Firms

Questions Not To Ask Executive Search Firms

If you are shopping for an executive search firm to conduct an important senior-level executive search, don’t be fooled by the lists of search firm screening questions available for download on the Internet. Those lists are not entirely objective. Retained search firms have cleverly marketed lists of screening questions, that when answered, will lead you directly to their doorstep. Even human resources associations and other seemingly independent organizations often get spoon fed the same questions by a friendly search partner or firm. In other words, we suggest those cooked lists contain questions that are not in your best interest.

Of course, you might wonder, who are we to talk? That is a perfectly reasonable question. The Good Search is a retained search firm, after all.  However, we do not benefit from criticizing the concocted lists of screening questions — not when they promote the kinds of services we offer. However, The Good Search believes it is good business to help executive search buyers become more informed consumers.  I founded this practice because I believe there is a better way to recruit top talent. Executive search has to get smarter.

Still, when you get right down to it, it doesn’t matter who we are or what we believe. We simply suggest that you be on the lookout for bias in search firm questions and think about more relevant screening questions to ask. Draw up your own list of questions. To that end, I’d like to share my thoughts on a few of the common screening questions. Sometimes the obvious answer isn’t always the best.

Questions Not to Ask Executive Search Firms

  • How many searches have you conducted for this kind of role in the few years?

The implied preferred answer is that the more executive searches a firm has done for a similar role the better. Yet, that’s not necessarily the case. In retained executive search, the more identical searches a firm conducts, the more likely it is that they’ve done business with the companies you’d want to recruit out of for your engagement. Because they’ve done business with those target companies, they are likely off-limits to that firm.  In other words, retained search firms can’t recruit out of target companies that happen to be their clients. When they can’t go there then you can’t go there. Too many identical searches are not a good thing. In fact, search firms that rattle off a long list of similar engagements should be screened out, not in.

  • Will the executive search firm consultant I meet with actually be the one doing the work?

The implied preferred answer is “absolutely”, leaving the buyer with the impression that the partner is elbows deep in the engagement each and every day. However, every major retained search firm works on searches in conveyer belt fashion. First come the researchers who identify candidates, then come junior associates who qualify the candidates; and after that come the consultants and partners who do more in-depth interviews, assessments, and manage the engagement through its successful completion. Smaller firms and boutiques may cut out a layer or two, but teamwork in executive search is pretty standard practice. In our view, what is more important is whether those working on the engagement offer serious research expertise, business acumen, and added reach — the ability to tap candidates out of the grasp of other search firms.

  • What is your time-to-complete?

The most frequently measured metric cited by executive search clients is how long it takes to complete an engagement. But here, one must ask why that is. Often, a search firm has little control over how long it takes a company to schedule interviews and, ultimately, to make up its mind. A more telling metric is how long it takes a search firm to present the candidate who ultimately is hired. Without a doubt, finding, recruiting, and getting a top executive onboard in a timely fashion is tremendously important. Vacant executive positions exact a real cost in lost revenues, lost opportunities, overworked team members, poor morale, and increasing customer dissatisfaction. However, time-to-hire dominates because it is an easy metric to capture. Value is much harder to measure because it is qualitative. Yet value remains the most important metric of all.


Why You Need a Chief Data Officer

Why You Need a Chief Data Officer

Why You Need a Chief Data Officer

If knowledge is power, hiring your company’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO) may be the shortest path to a competitive advantage.  According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, you hire a Chief Data Officer in order to compete with data.

However, ensuring that the CDO is successful isn’t always as easy as it seems. Chief Data Officers don’t always get the respect or resources that they deserve. That is why Gartner estimates that 90% of large global organizations will have a Chief Data Officer by 2019, but only half of them will be considered a success.

By 2020, 50% of leading organizations will have a CDO with similar levels of strategy influence and authority as their CIO, says Gartner. The global IT advisory firm points out that to be successful  CDOs must “establish authority, secure budget and resources, and monetize their organization’s information assets”.

Chief Data Officers Are Getting More Strategic

Initially, the first generation of CDOs was more tactical than strategic. They were brought in to lead data governance and data management. However, CIO.com reports that the role of Chief Data Officer is transitioning into one focused on how to best organize and use data as a strategic asset. Yet there remains a disconnect. Many CDOs still don’t have the resources, budget, or authority to drive digital transformation on their own. As a result, often the CDO needs to help the CIO drive transformation across the company. In essence, the CDO is fast becoming the CIO’s corporate wingman.

First Chief Data OfficerYour Chief Data Officer Will Need Data Scientists

That first Chief Data Officer will likely need data scientists.   Eventually, your CDO will also need a data lab and a data factory. A data lab is where you do longer-term, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. A data factory is where you do more process-focused data analytics aimed at more immediate results.

Readying Leaders to Share the Data

Hiring your first Chief Data Officer also involves significant change management.  Your leadership, divisions, departments, and teams will need to be prepared to share their information. The walls of organizational silos must come down. In addition, when the Chief Data Officer serves up actionable intelligence, leadership must be prepared, after all, to act.  That action can bring about seismic shifts as your company morphs into an entity that is more competitive.

Start to Think about the Data

So how does a company begin its journey to hire a Chief Data Officer? Start to think about the data: where it exists and how it might be used.  Ask yourself what entities capture data specific to your business. In my former career as an investigative journalist, I learned that virtually every time a person interacts with the government, a record is created: that’s data. Today, virtually every time we interact with an electronic device, a record is created — every time we turn on our cell phone, send an email, visit a website, or scan in our credit card at the corner store. In addition to the data that your company captures, there are other data that are available for acquisition. Think about all the insights the data might hold. (More on this later.)

According to David Simchi-Levi, professor of engineering systems at MIT and head of the Accenture and MIT Alliance in Business Analytics, big data analytics addresses four kinds of questions:

  1. Descriptive: Tell me what happened.
  2. Diagnostic: Don’t just tell me what happened, tell me why it happened.
  3. Predictive: Tell me what will happen.
  4. Prescriptive: Tell me how I can I make it happen.

But there is one last question that CEOs must ask themselves as they consider the implications of the tsunami of data that is now available.

Tell me what happens if one my top competitors hires a Chief Data Officer first?

Since knowledge is power, the answer is obvious. Your competitor will have gained a significant competitive advantage. That is why a growing number of CEOs are deciding the time for their first Chief Data Officer has come.

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Why You Need a Chief Data Officer

Is Your Executive Search Firm Ready for Big Data?

The executive search industry has witnessed a dramatic shift in how board and senior-level executives are recruited. But what has not changed in how traditional retained search firms recruit. In fact, executive search “best practices” have stayed pretty much the same since they were first developed a half-century ago. And that’s a problem.

The average executive search firm lacks the data expertise to harness the power of Big Data. There is now a treasure trove of data available on candidates. However, in most cases, it is not current, it is not complete, and increasingly it is not structured. Moreover, there is so much information available, recruiters are suffering from information overload. Increasingly, they are missing top talent, not because the candidates are hard to find, but because they cannot see the forest for the trees.

Executive search “best practices” were never designed to deal with Big Data. In other words, the so-called “best practices” are no longer the best.  Moreover, traditional retained search firms haven’t invested in the serious research expertise needed to mitigate the risk and to harness the power of Big Data.

Wrangling all that information takes deep investigative and big data analytics skills — expertise you typically do not find in the world of recruiting. It represents both a threat and an opportunity.

(Of course, our retained search practice is wrapped around our robust research division Intellerati.)

We welcome your thoughts and comments on recent trends you’ve witnessed.

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What Are the Top Executive Search Firms in NYC?

What Are the Top Executive Search Firms in NYC?

Top Executive Search Firms in NYC

In the interest of objectivity and putting a little good karma out there, below is a list of the top executive search firms in NYC, one that includes our competitors. We understand that we’re not the right search firm for every search every time. No search firm is. That is why it makes sense for any search buyer to develop a short list of search firms tailored to your company. But as you do your research, you need to be careful. Some top search firm lists are not what they seem. From what we’ve been able to determine, at least one is a fake top executive search firms website created by one of the search firms listed in the bogus Top 20.  That “dirty data” — a top search firm that really isn’t considered among the best — appears to have fooled at least one of the more established “best of” lists to include that little-know trickster search firm in its Best Executive Recruiting Firms list. If you happen to be in the Greater New York City area, the list of 30 search firms below should help give you a good start. These firms conduct senior-level executive search in the tristate region of Connecticut,  New Jersey, and New York and the Northeast.  While everyone has their favorites, these executive search firms have solid histories of providing searches in New England.

How to Find a Top Executive Search Firm List You Can Trust

Consider the source. If there is no source listed on a top search firm website — if there is no website owner, address, or contact information, beware. If there is a source, weigh the potential bias. Everyone has a point of view. We happen to be a retained executive search firm, one that is positioned as an alternative to traditional executive search practices. Since we advocate for smarter search and recruiting practices and make our feelings known (on this blog and elsewhere), we frequently get asked to share our short list insights. Chief executive officers, board members, and venture capitalists all come to us with the same question. “What are the top executive search firms in NYC in the retained search firm industry?”  

Leading NYC Search Firms

(In alphabetical order)

Battalia Winston

Consumer and Retail; Diversity and Inclusion; Family Business; Financial Services; Healthcare; Industrial and Manufacturing; Life Sciences; and Nonprofits and Associations.

Bishop Partners

Cable Television; Broadcasting; Publishing; Entertainment; Telecommunications; Wireless; Digital; Internet; and Broadband.


Consumer and Retail; Financial Services; Healthcare and Life Sciences; Industrial; and Technology.

Caldwell Partners

Consumer, Retail & e-Commerce; Education, Nonprofit & Government; Financial Services; Industrial; Life Sciences & Healthcare; Private Equity & Venture Capital; Professional Services; and Technology.

Chadick Advisors

Financial Services; Transition Advisory; and Diversity & Inclusion.


Consumer; Enterprise; and Healthcare.

DHR International

Consumer & Retail; Financial Services; Industrial; Life Science and Healthcare; Media & Entertainment; and Education & Nonprofit.

DRG Search


Egon Zehnder

Consumer; Financial Services; Health; Industrial; Private Equity; Public & Social Sector; Services; and Technology & Communications.



Accounting & Finance; Creative & Digital; Engineering; Financial Services, Healthcare; Information Technology; Life Sciences; and Nonprofit.

Heidrick & Struggles

Consumer Markets; Education, Nonprofit and Social Enterprise; Energy; Financial Services; Healthcare and Life Sciences; Industrial; Private Equity; Professional Services; and Technology.

Herbert Mines

Omni-channel Retail; Digital & Tech; Consumer Products; Hospitality & Leisure; and Private Equity.



Heyman Associates

Communications and Public Affairs.

Koller Search Partners

Digital; Technology; Media; Information/Data; and Advertising.

Korn Ferry

Consumer; Financial; Industrial; Healthcare; Life Sciences; and Technology.

Madison Search Partners

Digital Media; Enterprise Software, Consumer; and Venture Capital/Private Equity.

Odgers Berndtson

Business Services | Professional Services; Consumer | Entertainment | Sport; Education; Financial Services; Healthcare & Life Sciences; Industrial; Public & Not For Profit; and Technology.

Russell Reynolds

Business and Professional Services; Consumer; Education; Energy; Financial Services; Healthcare; Industrial; Nonprofit; Private Equity; and Technology.

Slayton Search Partners

Consumer; Retail; Financial Services; Insurance; Industrial; and Private Equity.

Spencer Stuart

Technology, Media & Telecommunications; Consumer; Financial Services; Industrial; Education, Nonprofit & Government; Private Equity; Healthcare; and Business & Professional Services.


Media & Content; Information & Data Services; Technology & Digital Acceleration; Sports; Sporting Goods & Fashion; and Esports.

Stanton Chase

Consumer Products and Services; Financial Services; Government, Education and Non-Profit; Industrial; Life Sciences and Healthcare;  Supply Chain, Logistics and Transportation; Natural Resources and Energy; Professional Services; Technology; and Private Equity & Family Office.

Stephen-Bradford Search

Advertising / Media / Data / Technology; Retail / Beauty / Luxury / Style; Market Research / Analytics; Nonprofit / Education; Media / Publishing; and Marketing / Shopper / Experiential.

The Good Search (That’s Us)

Analytics; Artificial Intelligence; Computational Biomedicine; Data Science; Hospitality & Leisure; Internet & Retail; Machine Learning; Software; Technology; and Venture Capital & Private Equity.


Board Services; Business & Professional Services; Construction, Design & Real Estate; Consumer & Retail; Energy, Utilities & Mining; Financial Services; Government, Education & Non-Profit; Industry; Life Sciences; Renewable Energy / Clean Technology; amd Technology, Communication & Media.

True Search

Consumer; Financial; Tech; Healthcare; IT; and Life Sciences.

WTW Associates

Media, Entertainment & Technology; and Law Firm & Professional Services.

For more information, check out our post on how to build your own list of top executive search firms.

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What Are The Greatest Myths of Search Firm Selection?

What Are The Greatest Myths of Search Firm Selection?

What Are the Greatest Myths of Search Firm Selection?

Search firm selection is tricky business. Over the years, retained search firms have provided guidance to prospective clients on how to select a search firm. That guidance is a one way they market their services. The search firm selection document recommends using search firms that resemble the search firm offering the guidance. Yet a number of their assertions have been adopted as the gospel truth, when that simply isn’t the case.

Moreover, the track record of traditional retained search firms is underwhelming. 40% of retained searches fail-to-complete. An estimated 40-50% the executives who are recruited don’t make it past their first year. Clearly, something needs to change. A good way to begin is by exposing some of the myths regarding what an employer should look for in selecting an executive search firm. To search smarter, we must begin to challenge old assumptions and to think for ourselves.

Myth #1: You need to specialize in our industry

On the face of it, specialization seems to make sense. Clearly, you want a firm that understands your business and its players. But beware. Industry specialization sets up client blockage. A search firm, particularly the larger firms, will not be able to recruit from all your favorite target companies. The reason? A number of those companies are already clients of the firm.

Of course, the search firm will promise to tell you whenever there is a conflict. But why should you believe them? If they base their fees on a percentage of compensation, they already have demonstrated they are comfortable with conflicts-of-interest. The best way to avoid client blockage is to do business with boutique search firms.

Myth #2:  30% Fee is Acceptable

Retained search firms, on average, charge 30% of annual first year total compensation of the candidate they place plus expenses. While it isn’t technically price-fixing, don’t you find it strange so many retained search firms charge exactly the same percentage? Moreover, percentage fee sets up an inherent conflict-of-interest. It rewards any firm that artificially inflates the salary of the candidate they recruit. That conflict could be avoided entirely with a fixed fee.

Myth #3 – Find a search partner who knows all the best candidates.

If a retained search partner tells you they know “all the best candidates”, that simply is not true.  Great retained search partners work their sources the way a great reporter does. (As a former award-winning investigative reporter, I know a great deal about the care and feeding of sources.) But there is a theoretical limit to the number of people with whom we can have a social relationship. Dunbar’s Number. We humans top out at about 150 people and that includes teachers from schools and family members. Moreover, just because a retained search partner knows an executive does not mean he can recruit that person. Executives do not accept jobs just because a golfing-buddy headhunter told him. Conversely, do not assume that a candidate will refuse to engage just because they’re hearing from a recruiter for the first time. Gifted headhunters have ways of getting their calls returned, regardless. In light of the many ways we can reach out and touch a candidate, what seems to matter most is the ability to uncover all viable candidates. You usually don’t do that work from the 19th hole.

More on the myths in future posts.

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