Executive Search, as a recruiting service, has, from the very beginning, been seen as important and valuable by the business world. Hence the Executive Search Industry has developed into what it is today. It is generally considered that the Industry largely started in the United States. As Client organisations grew, became more international and spread around the world, Executive Search Industry followed suit, also grew and spread steadily, first within Europe, then into Latin-America and Asia, eventually becoming a multi-billion global industry operating all over the world.
So, how has the Executive Search Industry stood the test of time? In my opinion, very well indeed, but a lot has changed over the years.
In the “old days”, when I started my career, (35 years ago) Executive Search looked very different. Contacting an Executive Search Firm was a privilege of few. Many people did not even know there existed an Industry called Executive Search, while today (2019), meeting a Head Hunter seems to be a routine step in everyone’s career action plan.
In the “old days” Executive Search was pretty much exclusively used to recruit top-level Senior Executive Management people. In fact, for many the words Executive Search and Head Hunter are still synonymous with an Executive Search Firm searching for top-level Senior Executive Management people.
Nowadays, there exist Executive Search Firms that search for people to all organisational levels from the top-down, even to entry level positions, so the word “Executive” in Executive Search does not necessarily always mean an Executive level position. Also, the search process may here differ a lot from what we are used to in Executive level Search. Nothing wrong with this. If there is a need for this service in the business world, it is good to have it. That said, it is also good to make this distinction clear when you are talking about Executive Search, so people know what you mean.
The Executive Search Firms of the “old days” that focus exclusively on searching for top-level Senior Executive Management people are all still with us and doing very well.
That is the Executive Search I am talking about here.
Top-level Executive Search is just as important for the business world as it has ever been, maybe even more important. The ever-growing size of companies, the ever-growing impact they have on the global markets, the ever faster developing technology impacting on these companies, demands ever more skills and expertise from the Executives leading these companies and thus demanding ever more skills and expertise from the Executive Search Industry.
There exist very different kinds of Executive Search Firms. There exist both globally operating Search Firms and very small, locally operating Search Firms and everything in between.
When you are talking about high-end Executive Search, many spontaneously assume you are talking about the major globally operating Executive Search Firms. However, just the size of a Search Firm or a global operation does not necessarily always equal top-level service. Neither does a small company automatically mean a bad or low service level. If the recruiting need is local, a local small Search Firm might well be an excellent choice.
At the end of the day, the service level and professional expertise are always dependent on the people who do the job, not the company size. That said, size tends to bring more knowledge, experience, perspective and more resources. Size may also be some indication of success. You probably can’t grow very big if you always do a lousy job.
The backbone, the core business of any Executive Search Firm/Office is, of course, Executive Search. On top of this, some Search Firms/Offices may also provide other services. Typical other services offered are Executive Coaching, Interim Management, Management Assessment, Executive Assessment and Leadership Advisory Services. If and what kind of other services are offered, is related to the local market conditions where the company operates, and to the market demand.
The definition of the Executive Search process is much the same all over the world. However, the truth is, it is not the same on a practical everyday work level. Everyone understands that all industries everywhere must adapt to the prevailing local conditions, also the Executive Search Industry. Even though the name of the company outside over the front door, in different places, is the same, the way things are done on the inside may differ.
For a Client using an Executive Search Firm, it is important to be able to recognise who’s who in the Executive Search Industry. To be able to choose the right Executive Search Firm for the right need, so to say. Not all Executive Search Firms are top-level, even if they say they are.
Choosing your Search Firm when you need to recruit a Senior Executive of strategic importance, is not something you do at the drop of a hat. In my opinion, a documented Best Practice telling how this should be done is a must have for every company. I am sure that every Client (or Candidate for that matter) would always like to choose the best Search Firm for his/her needs. Not the second or third best or God forbid, to choose from the worst ones.
Also, this is not just about choosing the right Search Firm. It is equally important for a Client to know how to manage the search process optimally. To give the keys to the search consultant and say: “Now you start searching, and then we will meet after a month and see what you have found”, may not always be the best of strategies. Some situations may require close interaction and cooperation to ensure a good end-result.
Choosing the right Executive Search Firm may determine the difference between success and failure. Also, this is about much more than just an Executive Search Assignment. At best, it is about forming a long-term and mutually benefitting business partner relationship.
For those who are interested in learning in more detail about how they as a Client can optimally benefit from Executive Search, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. Anyone dealing with Executive Search, who has this book is always one step ahead of those who do not have it.