Finding the Right Executive Search Firm
When it comes to hiring, there are no guarantees you’ll always find the best candidate. That’s especially true when you’re hiring for an executive-level position. As the founder of an executive search firm, I know how important it is to identify and secure a well-suited search firm before you begin the hiring process. Here are a few steps to consider before and during the search process:
Prior to engaging a firm, make sure you’ve established
your needs internally. Ensure you have buy-in from all stakeholders, including agreement on the scope and breadth of the role; a draft job description; benefits composition; reporting lines; and potential career progression, so you can update the search firm accordingly. If you don’t have a relationship with a specific firm, ask your networks for recommendations. In addition to the larger firms, consider niche boutique firms who offer in-depth coverage and detailed knowledge of your sector or type of business. Ask your preferred firm(s) for a proposal outlining their fees, terms and conditions, guarantee period, etc. Once you’re comfortable with a firm, prepare the briefing.
Before you officially hire a search firm, a thorough briefing is needed; engage the firm like you would a potential business partner. The firm must want to meet you, fully know the job description, learn where the position fits in your organization, understand how it contributes to your business goals and ask about opportunities for career development. Your ideal firm should also embrace your plans for the future, as well as engage direct reports and/or peers to the role for additional information gathering. The firm should then return with their understanding of your brief and help finalise the job description to ensure everyone is focused on the same goal.
A smart search strategy leads to the best candidates and enables a fast start. The search firm you hired should manage expectations on how challenging the search for an executive hire is likely to be from the outset. They should also outline a thorough process, proposing target markets and companies, and should “benchmark” candidates (including likely compensation) to ensure the search is as focused as possible. An agreed-upon search strategy will help you and the firm stay on track; remember to have a record of all agreements should there be a need to change direction. Discuss all requirements upfront so the firm can ensure you are supplied with the best pool of candidates. What’s more, establish timelines regarding when the firm should deliver long and short lists of candidates, and make sure all the key members of your team who need to be involved are available.
When it comes time to the candidate-vetting process,
your search firm should meet all top leads face-to-face
or via a video conference, interview them against your specifications and gain third-party viewpoints. The firm should then provide you with a detailed report assessing each candidate against your requirements. This should include current and future compensation expectations, a notice period with the current employer, availability to start and other associated matters. Above all, the firm should perform due diligence on all of the finalists, which should include psychometric assessments and detailed references.
Be available throughout the candidate search process. A good firm will want to check in to discuss market feedback and progress. In my experience, weekly calls ensure everyone is on the same page. The search firm is there to provide you with options, advice and guidance, but it is ultimately your decision as to whom you hire. If you aren’t confident with the final candidates, discuss this with your search partner and either seek additional information or be prepared to “go around” again to ensure you have a candidate who is a great fit for the role. When you finally hire the right person, conduct a thorough debriefing with the firm and provide feedback to ensure your partnership continues to grow.
Stuart Chrisp is an EO Auckland member and director of Rothbury Kinross Executive Search, a boutique executive search team of trusted advisors based in New Zealand. Contact Stuart at