Emerging Issues in Executive Search

04/29/2015 03.16 EDT

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Last week I attended the annual Global Conference of the AESC – The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants – in New York City.  This is the sole organization that represents the $11 billion global executive search industry.  The mission of the AESC is to serve as the voice of excellence for executive search and leadership consultants worldwide.  This year’s conference was attended by about 200 search professionals from 23 countries, and it was organized around three themes – innovation, inclusion and intuition.   I have attended this conference for many years and served on the Americas Council of the AESC, so I have a rather good sense of where our industry has been and where it is going.  Here are some observations about things that have changed – and some that have stayed the same – over those many years.   When I first began to attend this conference in the late 1990s, there were only a handful of participants from outside of the US, and a handful of women attendees as well. It was truly the land of old, white men.  This year, about 40 percent of the participants were women.  The average age was far younger, and I spent time with people from Brazil, Ireland, Dubai, South Africa, Venezuela, Canada and Belgium. In my 20 years in the executive search industry, the word “innovation” has rarely passed my lips when discussing our profession. Last week’s meeting didn’t change that.  The basic foundation of...

I Feel the Need for Speed (and Accuracy)

03/26/2015 12.05 EDT

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  When we pitch a search to a potential new client, one of the first questions we’re asked is how long we think the process may take.  Companies want to know how long it will take their search partner to identify and present a slate of candidates.  For the record, on average it takes SSG somewhere between four and six weeks to bring a highly qualified group of executives to any individual engagement.  Sometimes, we see either explicit or tacit anxiety from the company regarding the length of time it takes to generate candidates.  If I feel this anxiety roiling in the background, I often take out this chart:   These data are drawn from thousands of searches conducted by SSG over the past 19 years.  And, I am pretty sure that most other retained executive search firms could pull charts together that look similar – if not identical – to the one above.  So, as a hiring manager, human resources or talent acquisition professional, if you are asking your search firm how they can shave a few days off the time it takes to deliver a slate of candidates, you are asking the wrong question.  Alternatively, what you should be asking is: “Why does it take us so damn long to hire an executive?”   While there are a thousand little variations, thematically there are only a few large factors that influence the pace of the hiring process:   We really don’t have a hiring process....

How Do Candidates Want to Be Treated?

10/29/2014 10.55 EDT

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Many of us in the executive search business or corporate recruitment field talk about candidate care as an important aspect of what we do.  How do we communicate and interact with candidates during the recruitment process?  How often should we communicate with them?  The definition of “candidate care” is different from person to person, firm to firm and company to company.   One aspect of the recruitment process that is guaranteed to frustrate candidates is lack of communication.  For example, you have applied for a position and perhaps have interviewed with the search firm or company, but unfortunately, there is a limited feedback loop about where you stand in the process.  No one likes to be ignored or avoided.  It leaves you feeling negatively about the potential employer, and that negative news spreads to others – especially in the age of social media.   So what are some best practices for treating candidates so that even if they are not selected, they feel they have been treated respectfully and fairly?   Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If several weeks go by without any decisions on next steps, you – as the search consultant or recruiter – should call or send the candidate a message.  Let them know they are still being considered but the process is taking longer than expected.   Even if you don’t have any news, still contact them.  Some news is better than no contact.  Leaving candidates in limbo can be a turn-off, and it can also...

Managing Internal Candidates

10/06/2014 04.35 EDT

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Many of the searches we perform for clients include candidates already employed inside the client company who want to be considered for the position on which we are working.  Managing internal candidates can be tricky and sensitive, and it can have a large impact on how they feel about their employer after the search is done – regardless of whether they ended up in the job or not.   When we begin a search that includes internal candidates, the first thing we do is get an explicit agreement from our client on two things:   The object of the search is to end up with the most qualified person in the job.  This individual will have the highest likelihood for success in the role and will have the talent to make a strong contribution to the company. Any internal candidates who were considered for the role will feel positively about their experience at the end of the search, regardless of whether or not they ultimately got the job.   How can you achieve these dual objectives?  Here are five effective strategies that we have developed over the years:    Make sure you have a detailed, comprehensive and realistic job specification.  This document is going to be the bedrock for the search and the standard against which you evaluate all candidates – both internal and external.  At a minimum, it should include job responsibilities, required qualifications and critical competencies. When an internal candidate throws his or her hat...

How to Stack the Deck for Success

02/10/2014 02.57 EDT

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I recently read a very interesting piece by Jean Martin, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review: For Senior Leaders, Fit Matters More than Skill.  Jean writes about the need to evaluate an executive’s “network fit” when considering him or her for hire.  By “network fit,” she means “how well the potential hire will fit with the way his or her new colleagues work.”  This is distinctly different from “cultural fit,” which predicts how well the executive will align with the corporate culture more broadly.   Jean points out that executives who fail often do so because of a problem with “network fit.”  She goes on to examine whether internal recruiters are better able to sense network fit when compared to external search partners.  I think it’s fair to say that she doesn’t think either party does a particularly good job on this critical aspect of evaluating external executives for key leadership positions.   The article got me thinking – always dangerous – so I thought I would share a couple of reactions.   First – the obvious.  You can’t evaluate network fit if you haven’t met the network!  For all of our searches, we try to meet as many stakeholders as possible when we begin the search.  It takes time to do this, and sometimes clients push back, wondering why it matters.  We generally are pretty insistent about this step in the process.  We have always known how important chemistry is with the team; if you...

10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

01/13/2014 11.13 EDT

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It may be a little bit late, but nonetheless, I am announcing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014.   I will stop creating retaliatory traffic problems for my rival colleagues near my office by moving the big plant outside my door into the middle of the hallway. If it becomes necessary to create that bottleneck, I will not send an email to my assistant asking her to move the plant for me. I will stop waiting for the sky to fall every time there is a weak jobs report.  I will convince myself that we will never have another recession as severe as the last. I will put a small amount of the money I buried in my garden back into the bank.  At some point. I will take Twitter more seriously. I will submit at least one proposal response to an RFP in the language of Farsi, just to see if anyone notices. I will agree with everyone who tells me that LinkedIn is going to put us out of business. I will never say “I told you so” when they call in two months in need of immediate help on a search. I will stop explaining the business model of retained executive search to well-meaning people who do me the “favor” of sending me resumes of their unemployed friends and neighbors. I will submit my blog entries in a timely manner to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed so I don’t have to resort to listing my New Year’s Resolutions...

Land of 1000 Welcomes

11/18/2013 12.15 EDT

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One of the wonderful opportunities in being part of a global association is the chance to meet and build relationships with others around the world.  Through Salveson Stetson Group’s affiliation with IIC Partners, we have joined annual meetings in interesting places; last year, our meeting was in Thailand, and this year we met in Ireland.   I was excited about visiting Ireland, as I heard it is called the Land of 1000 Welcomes.  I thought that was just a nice slogan made up by a marketing firm, but I was wrong.  It truly is very fitting!   I’ve highlighted a few thoughts on what I learned during my visit in Ireland:   Yes, it does rain or drizzle often, which makes the landscape very green.  However, the sun does shine as well!  We were fortunate during our trip to have enjoyed sun-filled mornings.   The pubs are the best places to meet people.  Of course, we had to test this out, and test we did.  The locals go out of their way to talk to you, give you suggestions of places to visit and are filled with pride to show you the country.  They are great ambassadors.   Irish dancing truly is what it’s cracked up to be.  I was amazed at how exciting it was to watch them.  It looks like a great form of exercise, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I only observed – maybe next time.   The taxi drivers in...

Why are we Working in the Summer?

08/05/2013 12.44 EDT

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Our firm is a member of IIC Partners, one of the top 10 retained executive search groups in the world with 46 offices in 35 countries.  Several months ago, I volunteered to lead a work group to conduct IIC’s first-ever global survey.  The topic we chose was succession planning and we will be able to share what we believe will be some very interesting results in the fall.   The survey was drafted, vetted and ready to go by mid-June.  The plan was to invite participation during July.   Throughout this project, I have learned quite a bit about cultural differences, language, gender bias and various other nuances of trying to get a group of 10 people from 10 different countries to agree on survey questions.  Let’s just say I understand now why the United Nations needs such a big building in New York – and a peace-keeping force.  But we soldiered on and the survey went live.   That’s when I learned about another cultural difference:  working in the summer.   Some of our partner firms flat-out told us that they essentially close their businesses for the better part of either July or August.  Business slows to a trickle over the summer months and most of their clients are gone.  That’s just the way it is.   Then there are the people who are on holiday/vacation/leave – call it what you like.  They have messages that say that they will be out of the office until...

Tips for Recruiters Looking to Recruit Out-of-Town Job Candidates

06/24/2013 02.07 EDT

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This article was originally published on Brazen Life, a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals.     Your CFO job is in Chicago, but your top candidate is in Atlanta. She has a child who’s a sophomore in high school, and her mortgage is $200,000 underwater. She loves your company and the career opportunity, but can’t get herself over the relocation hurdle.   Sound familiar? Unfortunately, for many recruiters, it’s an all too familiar scenario as they go to market for top talent. Seventy-six percent of employers surveyed last year reported that relocation is still an issue for candidates. Moving for a job can be a tough sell—so how do you turn a “no” into a “yes” with a rockstar candidate when relocation is the only thing standing in your way?   It’s not completely hopeless. Last year, 44 percent of workers said they’d relocate for the right job, and data from 2011 reports that interstate residential shipments were up significantly from the recession, suggesting Americans might be more open to moving for out-of-state jobs. Plus, general job satisfaction remains low, with the majority of employees in the U.S. and Canada unhappy at work.   Despite these encouraging trends, a rigid approach on your company’s part will not put you fully in the game for relocating top talent. In order to successfully compete, your company needs to look at each case individually, rather than trying to fit every candidate into your standard relocation policy.   Candidate objections...

The Rules of Engagement

03/01/2013 01.44 EDT

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This article originally ran on TLNT.  To view it, click here.   Let’s face it.  The active candidate has become a second-class citizen.  Conventional wisdom says that there continues to be a glut of in-transition executives in the job market.  Just post a job on Monster.com and you can expect an avalanche of resumes to bury your inbox.  Or, set your corporate recruiter loose on LinkedIn and within a few days, she will be sitting in your office with a stack of profiles from which you can choose your next VP of [insert job title here].  The only catch is that the vast majority of these candidates are either out of work or have something going on in their current companies that is pushing them out the door.   That’s not to say there are not a number of talented executives in the active candidate pile.  There are.  You can’t have the type of economic upheaval we have experienced over the past several years and not some very talented professionals be displaced.  But, do you really want this demographic to make up the entire applicant pool for a critical senior hire?  That answer comes down to making a choice between whether you are looking for the best talent available or the best talent period.   In my opinion, this is where the talent acquisition function is currently failing its client base.  Many have mistaken the increase in candidate visibility for an increase in candidate quality.  That’s simply not the...