Executive search is also known as headhunting, informally. Basically, it’s a specialized recruitment service which organizations pay to seek out and recruit highly qualified candidates for senior-level and executive jobs. For example, President, Vice-president, CEO. They are easier to interact, engage and contact, they are trying to build a varied and large talent pool and will want to have your details on the database in order to access your profile when a suitable job opportunity comes on offer.
Need for Executive Search and Recruitment
Finding the top talent can be difficult, which is why some corporations hire executive search firms to help them recruit. Some executive head-hunters only work within certain industries, or they may work for an executive recruiting firm.
Most corporate companies who decide to use an executive search firm do so because they don’t have the internal resources, network, or perhaps even evaluative skills to recruit themselves. Some companies may even use them to recruit from competitors indirectly, allowing them to find candidates they might not have been able to find otherwise.
This part of the search business is pure sales, and high on the list of required skillsis the ability to communicate.
They focus on filling executive positions within companies.
Depending on the knowledge and experience of the individual recruiter, an executive recruiter can fill professional positions like doctors or lawyers. They can be focused on filling high-level management positions.
Many clients use them to find candidates that can not be immediately identifiable in the market. Hence, essentially, avoid the cost of a bad hire.
They utilize a range of personal contactsin their industry, as well as their in-depth knowledge of their industry, to find suitable candidates for clients.
They conduct detailed interviews and then selectively present candidates to their clients.
Also, they help clients draft accurate and enticing job descriptions to draw in a pool of qualified candidates.
They combine deep industry and functional knowledge with a proven executive search and assessment process to help you find leaders who best fit your organization’s unique needs and will have a lasting impact.
An executive recruiter tends to work high volumes of roles and candidates and rely on a databaseto find the relevant candidates for the job.
How do recruiters find these companies?
No employer wants to pay you a fee to find candidates. They believe they can find a pearl among the many smelly oysters on their own, and often they can. Basically, executive search and recruiters are brought in only for the toughest searches.
Leadership requirements continue to evolve, but the need for high-performing executives remains constant. Identifying and attracting this talent requires a rigorous approach to assessing executives’ ability to be successful in specific roles and situations, a thorough understanding of different industries and functional roles, unrivaled access to senior executives and impeccable judgment.
Executive recruiters are engaged only after companies which have exhausted all other avenues. So, how exactly do these recruiters find such companies?
This is done by the simple-old-fashioned way, which is by making endless cold calls or cold emails until they stumble across a company with a critical opening and a hiring manager desperate enough to pay a hefty fee to fill it. This process is known as smiling and dialing (telemarketing at its most basic level).
Adjacent is a small info-graphic that gives a brief description of the recruitment professionals and their features. Click on the image or click here to view the Info-graphics.
The best way to lock in a good relationship with an executive search company is to use that firm to do your own recruiting. Basically, both the parties must benefit from it. Professional executive search companies treat conflicts of interest and off-limit protocols very seriously and so if there is such agreements in place this may not work. If you are keen to lock in a long-term relationships then this method is often very effective.
There’s not a lot of recruitment hacks and internet sourcing that go into the process. But as an executive search and recruiter, you must first qualify in having these following traits within you.
A sparkle in the eye –
Recruiters are the ultimate “spin doctors“. As such they are always “on” and must exude enthusiasm. Without being abrasive, they must be a cheerful channel between two parties trying to advance their own, often disparate, agendas. The ranks of successful executive recruiters are filled with candidates who view the glass as half full.
Some searches are no-brainers, but most take unimaginable twists and turns. Trying to fit an interview into the schedules of two or more busy executives can take an interminable amount of time. Even if both sides like each other, the timerequired to make a final decision can seem endless. As facilitator, you must have the confidence and trust of both parties to move the process along without appearing to be self-serving. Issues include – For the company: Should we make an offer? To which candidate? At what salary? A committee decision (and most are) can take even longer. For the candidate: Will the company make an acceptable offer? Will this career move be in my best interests? How will my family feel about it?
Money motivated –
Executive recruiters are not social workers. The point of a search is for the recruiter to collect a fee. This doesn’t mean trying to force-fit the wrong person to the job, but the mating game must progress beyond the blind-date stage. Ultimately, someone must agree to uproot and take the job. This may require companies to accommodate candidates whose innovative notions aren’t compatible with the current status quo.
Does the company need a clone of the previous incumbent or an “out-of-the-box” hire? Must candidates come from direct competitors or would executives from a peripheral industry better serve the client? More companies are looking outside of their traditional talent pools, and recruiters must know when to introduce candidates with new perspectives.
Not every search for a new executive starts from scratch. But extensive research is the foundation of every new effort. Knowing where to look is pivotal. Also, recruiters must be resourceful when attempting to reach ultimate decision makers who are protected by layers of negativity.
Familiarity with your niche business segment or functional discipline is essential. Lacking the right background can add months to a successful outcome.
Hiring is stressful for employers. Changing jobs is equally stressful. Understanding these pressures is crucial to helping both sides feel they finished as long-term winners.
Observation skills –
You must see things as they really are rather than as clients or candidates want you to see them. Companies often don’t know the realities of the marketplace, while candidates who haven’t changed jobs for years may not understand their true worth. Only alert and sensitive executive recruiters can recognize these misconceptions and correct them before they derail a likely deal.
True courage –
A high tolerance for rejection is a must. You also can’t leave anything to chance. Neglect is the most common reason deals go sour.
Successful recruiters juggle eight to 12 assignments at a time. It’s a high-wire actwith no net. Deals you worked on for weeks may fall apart. But you can’t stop to mourn the loss because you must keep smiling and dialing for an assignment to replace it.
Ability to negotiate –
From the beginning of the process (your initial call to a hiring authority) until the hopefully happy conclusion, you’re a mediator, go-between, and diplomat who balances everyone’s interests.
How to Begin the Search and Recruitment process?
If you have these features and want a crack at the high-stakes executive-recruiting business, where do you begin?
You must first know the difference between a client and a candidate. And thus realize which of the two, do you belong to.
Executive search consultants often end up working with people they have met as candidates or clients and vice versa. It is important to remember that the same person who helped you find the right position for your career can also help you find the right candidates when your organisation is hiring. A lot of people tend to ignore the calls of a recruiter as very often they are fishing for business. This means the recruiter might not take your call when you are looking for a job. Therefore it is always better to communicate and take the time to understand what the contact is about.
You could start your own business, but without prior experience in the field, failure is almost inevitable. The landscape is littered with talented sales and human resources professionals, former executives as well as other wannabes who tried to become executive recruiters without the proper foundation. You can’t earn a college degree in the discipline. It’s a learnt skill and the best place to acquire it is from a mentor at an existing recruiting firm.
To find a good firm, ask a dozen hiring authorities to name three top recruiting firms they admire or respect. The same firms could be mentioned repeatedly. Ask if you can come in to discuss the possibility of working there. Search firms are always looking for good people, and if they sense you have the right features, they’ll probably offer you a chance.
How to do Executive Search and Recruitment?
Since, the companies are looking to fill high level positions, executive headhunters need to use all the recruiting industry’s best practices to stay ahead of the competition. Not only do they need to demonstrate a high level of professionalism and drive, they need to use the latest recruiting tactics to get the best candidates for executive positions. Here are some of the best practices for the executive recruiter who wants to be a step ahead.
1) Strategy and Research
Executive search firms create a strategy, do their research, make their calls, and find the right people to put into their assessment process.
Executive search firms find great candidates by starting with a strategy. The strategy considers the level and scope of comparable roles as well as other key data points: office location, corporate culture, and each company’s ranking. They’ll map out their target companies within specific industries and within specific geographic locations. And then they’ll have a list of potential leaders to go after.
Top executive recruiters will only approach a candidate if a contact in their network can verify that the candidate is solid. The research tools that form part of the search strategy will often include their own database, BlueSteps (a database of senior executives, free to access for AESC members), previously conducted market analysis, alternative internet sources such as social networks, and of course, their own network and contacts.
2) Technology and Accurate Records
In the competitive world of executive recruiting, you can’t afford to use outdated methods of sourcing and screening candidates. Executives as well as recruiters at large corporations need to stay on top of the latest technology trends and understand how to use complex business software to get things done.
Technology like performance management or customer relationship management software(CRM) can help recruiters track candidate information and marketing strategies. Many companies are now offering recruiting software. These software are specifically designed to screen candidates and help with other recruiting tasks.
Also, keeping complete and detailed records of all clients, positions, applicants and candidates can be invaluable to an executive recruiter as well. Nothing turns off a client or kills the confidence of a candidate like a recruiter who doesn’t have all relevant information at their fingertips. It is extremely important for high level recruiters to keep thorough records of applicant information, their talent pool, every contact with candidates and clients, as well as marketing and development efforts.
3) Grow Your Network
Becoming one as an industry in executive recruitment, is a necessity. You have to, in a sense, become your ideal candidate. Drop by your placed candidates for the first day and see what they do – analyze their real function and profession. Read what they read, dress like they dress, and play where they play. At the highest level of recruiting, search professionals should really stop being simple service providers. They should become respected resources to their industry. This reputation is only built by a dedicated interest for the area of recruitment and a dogmatic approach to building trusted relationships in the industry.
For example, If you recruit scientists, you should know at least 25% of what they do about the subject. Befriend scientists. Go to science conferences
A wide network of business contacts that includes prospects, clients and hires is a recruiter’s best asset. Executive recruiters need to tend this network like a garden, strengthening existing relationships with regular communication and constantly staying on the lookout for new relationships. It’s very important to hang on to every contact you have made; even if one particular contact isn’t the right fit for one position, they could be perfect for the next one. Growing your network through referrals is also an important practice.
4) Client and Market Analysis
The Executive Search firm will begin a more thorough analysis of the hiring company, identifying key opportunities for the new executive, and defining a candidate profile that fits into the corporate culture and organizational structure – often this stage includes meeting key executives at the hiring organization.
Following this process, the executive search firm will complete a deep analysis of the market and create a compelling executive job profile. A market analysis will outline the competitive environment and influence the type of executive the search firm will look for.
This process often includes a team of highly skilled researchers and results in a document that will be a reference throughout the entire search process – the candidate specification. The candidate specification (job description) will contain detailed information about the role, responsibilities, the hiring client, key opportunities presented by the executive job, and outline career and educational requirements.
5) Candidate Specification and Profile
The retained search firm drafts a description of the position, detailing its reporting relationships, responsibilities, and objectives.
The candidate specification details core competencies, preferred experience, and soft skills — the personal qualities that sought in the ideal candidate. The document serves as a touchstone, defining all the requirements of the role, preventing searches from veering off course. Once the client approves the document, it is used as a marketing tool with candidates.
For those candidates the search firm presents to the client, they prepare a written Candidate Profile, a report that details the candidate’s education, career history, honors and awards as well as an analysis and appraisal of the candidate strengths and weaknesses and appropriateness for the position. The report also highlights any key motivators, issues, and deal-making details essential to closing the candidate.
6) Candidates who gain more visibility (Social networking sites)
If you are actively participating in the dialog of your field or industry specialism, you significantly increase being recognized as a talent by executive search and recruitment companies. Being quoted in articles, having articles published or speaking at events relevant to your industry will help to increase your visibility.
Social networks play a hugely important role in executive search and recruitment companies. The population has gone from using virtually no technology to the latest technology. This change came over within just few years, in particular smart phones. While the more traditional methods such as the ‘black book’ still exist, most executive search and recruitment companies use a range of online platforms and tools to build long lists of candidates for particular jobs on offer. Due to this modernization of the methods used in searching it is a good idea to build your own personal social network profiles. In particular Facebook is very popular and also LinkedIn is a popular approach for executive search companies.
Make sure your personal PR is easily accessible online, your articles and industry comments are valid and make a good option for people to read. This helps executive search consultants to find candidates more easily and ultimately.
7) Candidates are Recognized
It’s obvious that the more successful the candidate is, the more chances they have of being recognized by an executive search firm as they target the best candidates for the job. This will give you more information on the good jobs on offer in the market, whether you’re looking or not.
Allowing your profile to stand out in the most professional way makes you easier to find by executive search firms. The candidates can ultimately get more job opportunities as well. It’s what other people think of you and viewing yourself as successful, which is the key to being noticed. Friends, colleagues, competitors are all on the list. How many of these people will be willing to refer you to a good option for a role, if they were asked for their opinion?
Executive search and recruitment companies will be looking for the right skill sets and experience of a candidateto fill the job. However, the cultural fit is an important factor to remember. If you as a candidate are a specialist in your field you have a better chance of being noticed over your cultural fit for the organisation. It’s the same for the recruitment companies. They’ll be looking for the right job applicant, the person with right skills and experience to fill that job opportunity.
8) Research and Reference Cross-check
Using the strategy as a blueprint, the search team conducts original research to identify and profile idea candidates, mapping the reporting relationships and often building out org charts of target teams. Traditional search firm usually do the most of the research online.
The search firm will also query its own candidate database, proprietary information services, and social networks such as LinkedIn to yield prospective candidates. Search firms sound their network of sources for candidate referrals and calibrations. Sources include journalists, professional associations, and other relevant groups. Prospects that meet the requirements of the role are added to the initial list of prospects.
The search team also checks the candidates references, contacting the contacts provided by the candidate as well as other sources available to the firm. The team makes every effort to ensure discretion and confidentiality. Verification of employment and academic credentials is often performed by third-party services. It is the consultant’s responsibility to ensure that such checks have been conducted.
9) Consistent Networking as an Investment
There are many networking events but there are not so many people actually going and getting on with it. Hence, you
should concentrate in your industry sector and among your peer groups. This is a powerful way of being noticedby executive search companies as well as the recruitment companies.
Naturally, recruiters love to a network also, this is a powerful way for them to find clients and candidates, as a job seeker trying to find a job, you may well bump into the perfect recruitment company for you. The other thing is to stay in touch with the well-connected and talented colleagues you have met on the way and figureheads in your marketplace.
Also, you must put time into your network as if it’s an investment. To maintain a successful network you have to invest time into it and see it as a long-term thing. Relationships are built over time not overnight and the more time you invest in them the stronger the relationship will be. You will get more rewards out of this type of behavior than becoming one of these overly enthusiastic ‘I’m looking for a job’ networkers.
10) Meetings and Interviews
The hiring client meets with the executive search firm to outline search requirements, timelines, future organizational strategy, and mission, and get an idea of corporate culture.
The retained search firm meets with the hiring executive and relevant stakeholders to discuss the requirements of the role. The meetings often include key board members, members of the senior executive team, peers and subordinates. These meetings enable the search firm to gather important information about the requirements of the role. More important, the search partner witnesses first hand the management style and corporate culture. These are essential to understanding what makes someone successfulat the company.
The search consultant interviews and evaluates top prospective candidates in a deep-dive interview that steps through the career history. The executive search partner evaluates the candidate against the candidate specification through in-depth, in-person or video-conference interviews. They take great care not to jeopardize candidate confidentiality. The search firms pre-reference candidates whenever possible to verify past performance and essential soft skills. The candidates who are not a fit are closed out.
11) Retained firms and Tracking Process
Within the executive search industry, the process of creating an industry/function wide map of talent and long-list of potential candidates is known as ‘name generation’ or ‘talent mapping’. After they have a number of high potential executives listed (sometimes 100+), executive search consultants and researchers will begin qualifying the potential targets and identifying whether they are suitable candidates.
Retained executives search firms work by a retainer and exclusive contract. The standard retained search contract stipulates that the firm serves as the exclusive representative of the search for external and internal candidates. It also defines engagement timing, off-limits agreements, and other issues relevant to the particular assignment. A series of internal meetings will continue throughout the candidate identification process. The number of potential candidates will be reduced to 10 at most.
This shortlist is achieved through detailed interviews that discuss the specifics of the executive job. They explore the candidates’ background, competencies and interest in the role. Many firms apply their own specific methods of client qualification at this stage. The search firm presents candidates at regular progress meetings. They work closely with the client. And the list is refined to a slate of 3 to 6 strong contenders for the client to meet.
12) Final step of Closing the Candidate
Client interviews of the candidates scheduled to winnow selection down the two or three finalists. The candidates who are eliminated will be closed out.
When a final candidate is selected, the search consultant works closely with the client and candidate. This is done to position the offer with the candidate, and to negotiate a package that is agreeable to both parties. The search team “closes” the candidate when the executive accepts the offer, agreeing to join the company. The executive search firm then closes out the engagement by thanking those involved for a successful outcome.
After these series of interviews and consideration of external references, the client will select their preferred candidate. The process of salary, as well as offer negotiation, will thereby commence. Often the search consultant will act as a mediator in this process to ensure both parties’ needs are being met.
Finally, the search firm will assist with the integration (on-boarding) of the successful candidate into the workplace. The degree of involvement varies depending on the wishes of HR and agreements made earlier in the search process. Hence, the search has been completed successfully. But the search firm will continue to maintain close ties with the hiring client and senior executive to ensure long-term satisfaction for both parties.
If you’re interested in working with an executive recruiter or becoming one, the key to understanding the business is trust. Candidates need to build trust with recruiters and treat and demand respect. Likewise, executive recruiters need to become not just sourcing resources for their clients, but trusted professional leaders. This applies to both their candidates as well as clients.
Hence, hopefully, these tips are helpful for you in your search and recruitment process. Take a long-term approach to building strong, mutually-beneficial relationships with colleagues and key recruiters. Try to be visible and ensure that your key skills and achievements are in the public domain.
Navaneetha, popularly known as "nav", loves to read, play badminton, play the keyboard and sing but when she's not doing any of those, she loves to write. What started as a high school hobby to write is now her ongoing passion. At AeroLeads, she manages Inbound Marketing and Social Media Marketing.