Four Traits to Look For In An Executive Search Partner Posted at 0:00, Thu, 26 February 2015 in Industry Insights

With a rebounding economy, and billions of investment dollars pouring into technology startups, the war for executive talent has been at a fever pitch.

Businesses big and small are not only hiring, but spending more money to ensure they engage the best candidates. Businesses spend on average $3,300 in recruiting costs for each new hire, an annual total of $72 billion for US corporations according to the most recent figures from Forbes. Recruiting costs are typically amplified by more than 10x for executive hires, plus millions of dollars are at stake in the event of an executive mis-hire.

The challenge for businesses is to employ strategies to identify and hire the best leaders for their needs. This thirst for talent and quality (and increased resources at earlier company stages) has been driving more businesses to work with executive search firms. I often get asked what people should be looking for in a search partner and thought I’d offer my thoughts.

There’s a lot of things you should be considering, but here are 4 key qualities I think you should look for in your search partner:

1. Connected
Successful search firms are able to identify the best candidates based on the networked relationships, knowledge of the market, and of companies where top executives reside. Ask each prospective partner about similar searches they’ve conducted, networks relevant to your business they’ll utilize, and how they’ll identify target companies. A search partner can’t find the right person to occupy an important position within your organisation if they don’t understand your company’s values and market space.

2. Collaborative
A search firm’s willingness to work collaboratively with you and your team is critical. I prefer working on retainer because I want to be tightly partnered with your talent leaders and be incentivised to have the company’s best interests (not collecting a placement fee) at heart. Look for someone who will educate you and challenge your point of view with well-considered advice as a teammate.

3. Credible
When you retain a search partner, they become your face to the marketplace of leadership talent. They need to have the ability to understand executives, their motivations, and be able to tell a compelling story about your company and why the opportunity might be a good fit. Great search partners add to your company’s reputation and drive strong outcomes with lasting relationships — not expedient salesmanship. This will help ensure that the executive you hire begins with an affinity for your organisation and stays for the long haul.

4. Counselor
You’re paying your search partner for their expertise, insight, and ability to make your business better. True partners need to have the ability to challenge your thinking, tell the truth, and deliver key (even painful) market insights to you. Outside of a brief calibration period you should mostly be talking to candidates who are serious contenders for the role — not getting superfluous introductions just to help everyone look/feel busy. Your team’s focus, and time, is a valuable commodity and should be guarded by the search partner.
Ask prospective recruiters what strategies they’ll employ to filter the candidate pool, as well as what documentation they’ll provide to prepare you for candidate interviews and how they look to go about hiring the right executive.

It’s Not About the Price
One of the biggest hiring mistakes businesses make is choosing a search partner (or executive) based primarily on price. Everyone has a budget, but hiring the right people is a sound investment that will pay off over the long haul. Hiring the wrong ones on the basis of price actually hurts your bottom line. It forces you to spend more money, time, and energy dredging through a weak search process, or worse, to find a replacement for your bad hire.

Search is hard, and the higher the stakes, the harder it can be. At the end of the day, choose someone you want to be in business with who will provide the caliber of results you’re looking for. Hiring the right executives to occupy key leadership positions will give your company the continuity you need to drive meaningful change and meet long-term company objectives. Working with the right search partner can be the first step towards achieving that goal.