In executive search it’s very common that companies work with external headhunters to find the right person for the job. That’s partly due to the complexity of such a search and also due to a high level of expertise necessary. Since an executive search project is such a crucial investment – not only in terms of expense but also with regard to the right quality you certainly expect – it’s something to pay attention to very much in detail. But to start out with understanding what’s necessary to make working with a headhunter a success we should look at how to find this particular partner.
How to find the right headhunter?
There are a lot of ways to look for a headhunter. Apart from a simple search it often comes quite quickly to “knowing someone who knows someone”. A good way to find a good headhunter is through searches he has already done. That’s quite obvious. Finding the one that has a lot of expertise among your industry fellow. But don’t forget that headhunters in a particular industry often have restraints from previous customers to not recruit there for a certain time. So maybe don’t take the one who works for your competition you would like to recruit from.
It makes sense to create a matrix of services and criteria you’re looking for and see who is a match to that. Think about the cost structure you favor (retained vs. contingency) and although you can use someone who has an “outside-perspective” you still don’t want someone too far away from your industry. Pay attention to the level of position your potential headhunter usually fills. In executive search you are looking much more for a mindset than a skill set. Your headhunter needs to be able to do that. Last but not least you really need someone you can work with on a personal level, someone who is really interested in your company. Why you need that? To work well together!
How to work together – honestly
When you find someone to work with, a good executive search consultant tells you the truth. Of course you’re not going to hear that you won’t get your position filled but you might hear some truths about the quality of your offer and the situation in the market. And it’s important that you get this kind of feedback. The best search results come from collaborations where both sides are honest about the level of expectation. It’s better to hear it like it is than to hear “no problem” where there really are quite some.
Something companies very often underestimate in the process of an executive search is the amount of organization necessary. You need to organize how the information is supposed to flow, how you can give in-depth insight into your company and your search. Executive candidates usually aren’t actively looking for a job, as they often get hunted or receive internal offers. So when they get approached they want to be fully convinced. Hence, executives are going to ask tough questions and they are going to detect any missing pieces in the offer. They are not only going to be interested in the short term but also in the long-term opportunities in your company.
So be prepared to make information available to your headhunter, so that the headhunter can fully represent and understand you. In order to understand you, you yourself need to make sure you know: who are the stakeholders of the search? Who has which interest in the candidate and how does it translate in the search.
Time and feedback
Take into consideration how much time it might take to fill the position. Be aware that the process can take longer than people initially tend to think. Think about the time frames you have to get all stakeholders in and take steps ahead in the process. Who will be involved in what? Who do you need when you need to review your expectations? Who needs to greenlight proposals and who is involved in the decision at the very end? This takes some serious scheduling skills. Of course you need to provide such high-level candidates with highly professional interview situations where the right people sit and ask the right questions.
Only if you take the time with your recruiter and go through the whole search process together and provide feedback every step of the way (throughout the whole process!) you'll get the best results.