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Executive Search – Where do Great Executives Come From?

As far as I know, a blog such as mine doesn’t exist anywhere else, or at least I haven’t found anyone willing to write about professional executive search and corporate recruiting. Today, many new to recruiting either aren’t being utilized as well as they could be, or they don’t have the appreciation they should for the profession. Often, it’s not their fault; they haven’t been trained very well. The results are being seen all over the Country, companies of every size are experiencing churn, turn-over and employee unhappiness at levels and in places we’ve never seen before. I hate to say it, but my profession has been disrupted, and not in a useful way. Recruiting as a profession probably isn’t better off, but the cost of hiring talent is lower. My CEO friends tell me they often walk around their offices thinking,” ͞You get what you pay for“.

That’s not to say everyone they’re hiring is wrong or mismatched, just a noticeably higher percentage than in the past. Same for my non-profit friends in leadership. We collectively have a low-grade dissatisfaction fever all over the employment landscape. In an effort to understand what’s happened and where things can improve, I’ve read several stories regarding How to hire, or Favorite questions to ask when hiring, etc. I have also spoken to several corporate recruiters and it’s been enlightening to understand how they themselves were hired and trained. Coincidentally, several CEO clients and friends expressed how hard it is to attract quality candidates for positions at the individual contributor to director levels. In exploring the issue, it became clear that frustration in the market has developed regarding techniques corporate recruiters are using such as in-mailing candidates willy-nilly through LinkedIn, not responding when candidates reach out, and recruiters not really being qualified to answer candidate questions, or frankly, unable to move the hiring process forward. Astonishingly, some of the things I heard were tantamount to malpractice at worst or unprofessional at the least.

I might add that I’ve heard similar complaints regarding less experienced independent executive search recruiters too. It seems we are losing our customer service chops just as in other service industries. It makes me sad for the grand profession of executive recruiting. I wonder where people are learning such bad habits. There have always been the hucksters willing to teach anyone how to say that magic thing to get the candidate to say yes, or how to acquire more job orders than ever before. Those folks have always been bad for the industry and always will be. Sadly, I haven’t seen anyone sticking up for the work and the difference it makes. Nor have I heard anyone talking about the commitment it takes to be great in recruiting — how a successful recruiter anticipates everyone’s needs during the search process and meets them without being conspicuous.

What I did find among some of the newest members of the search profession is the idea that recruiting is just a stepping stone in their career. One person said to me, I’m just doing this until there is a spot in marketing. Wow, I thought, the grand profession has been disrupted alright, it’s been so disrupted the very reason for the work has lost importance to the men and women doing it. If we want to keep this profession alive and vibrant, which is imperative to every non-profit and government entity trying to hire talented people, we must teach proper trade-craft and an attitude that this work matters. When executive search work is done well, we change the course of people’s lives and often a company’s direction. We have all witnessed a company’s direction being altered in remarkable ways through the hiring of a CEO. Just look at Apple and Yahoo, two companies going in different directions largely due to past CEO changes.

Where do great executives come from? I promise they have built their career one position at a time. They probably had someone helping them along the way, providing them counsel from time to time. Frequently that person was a well-regarded recruiter who had gained their confidence and trust through the embodiment of skills, professionalism and work ethic. I have seen big changes happen at companies of every size and have watched and aided substantial career growth of many executives working in some of the most well-known companies across the US. I have worked both with and around dozens of professional recruiters and executive search professionals in my 32 years in this industry, and I have seen many companies changed by well hired executives placed by professional search people.

In order to provide one personal example, between 1996 and 2006 I placed between 40 and 50 executives with a company called Fisher Scientific. During that time, they grew from $1.5 billion to $6.0 billion, creating tens of thousands of jobs within the US, not to mention rest of world. The Board then sold to Thermo-Electron, making investors and employees hundreds of millions of dollars. Everyone was a winner. Today Thermo-Fisher is about $17 billion in revenue. What a story for a company now more than 100 years old!

Our profession is extremely important to global business and non-profit organizations. Both independent and corporate recruiters matter. The candidates and companies served deserve the best we have to offer. Whether you are Corporate VP Talent or a Chief People Officer, or if you own a boutique executive search firm, take the time each week to teach the people serving your constituents the trade-craft, professionalism and commitment needed to be great. Believe me, neither LinkedIn or any of the candidate tracking apps in the Valley can take the place of a professional recruiter’s ability to assess and attract great people to great organizations. The better you and your people do, the better we all do.

I look forward to hearing from all of you. Please feel free to reach out to this piece or to me directly at [email protected].