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In the Author's Blog I collect all the articles I publish on LinkedIn, in one place and chronological order. Stay tuned - more will follow!


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My first ever client presentation in Executive Search

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I would like to share an experience I had at the beginning of my career in the Search Industry. The Search Firm I had joined was part of a bigger group of companies which offered all kinds of HR-related services. I had spent the first day on the job by saying hello to everyone, getting introduced. I was a newbie if there ever was one.

 

On my second day, I was to attend a client meeting with a consultant in one of the other companies in the group. Only to listen, observe and learn, or so I thought. But, when introducing me to the client, the consultant, to my surprise, said, “This is Bob Olin from our Executive Search Firm. Why don't you Bob give a short presentation about your Search Services? I am sure this would interest the client.”

 

Outwards, I was smiling, but inside I thought “You moron, this is my second day on the job. I know nothing about nothing”. As I walked towards the end of the table to hold my presentation, I was so nervous I thought my knees were going to give in. But I knew that having a presentation down on your shaking knees in front of a client is not the best way to start a career as a head hunter, so I pulled myself together and held my presentation.

 

It was a fast and very short run-through of the Executive Search process, which I, by chance, had learned by heart just the evening before from my training material - could not have taken more than two minutes. Yet, by the look on their faces, I had somehow managed to do well. I again was still so nervous that I had to focus on stopping my hands and knees from shaking when walking back to my chair.

 

Later, back in my room, I realised I now felt both thrilled and excited, not nervous at all. I also realised I had made the right choice in joining the Search Firm. I now knew I was going to learn, to manage and to like it. And I did. Many years later and hundreds of assignments later, I had developed into a top-level Research Manager and found myself standing in front of billion-dollar company CEO’s who were asking for my opinion and advice.

 

Thirty years and 1 000 assignments later, I could still remember my first client presentation, and how much I would have liked to have a book to look things up from then - before the client meeting - but there were no books.

 

Therefore, I wanted to write a book about Executive Search where anyone can go "look things up", to share what I had experienced and learned in Executive Search. That is how the book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search came to be. I wrote this book for all clients, in-house recruiting professionals, candidates, search consultants – for everyone interested in Executive Search. My goal was to benefit as many as possible, but how well I have succeeded in my endeavor is for the reader to decide.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage, where you are right now.

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How to get quality and value for money

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The Assignment Price vs Quality - is there a correlation? There may or may not be a connection. However, if one Search firm offers the search for 20 000 €, another Firm for 30 000 € and the third Firm for 40 000 €, maybe you as a Client should stop and think why this is the case. Maybe this reflects a difference in the service level, maybe not, but in life in general, top-level experts tend to be more expensive than others. This may be the case here too. Of course, price matters, but don’t pay too much attention to just the price. Instead, pay attention to the expected result of the search.

 

 

Top quality, top service and top expertise usually cost more.

 

Before I go any deeper into the header subject, I would like to say some introductory words. In the last 20 years, the recruiting world has changed a lot, e.g.:

 

  • The technology has changed, both enabling and forcing us to do things in new ways.
  • New actors have entered the market, creating new ways for how to recruit people.
  • AI is changing and reshaping the ways, methods, and practices of the recruiting industry even as I write these lines.
  • The values, ways and habits of people have changed big time.
  • The way Companies hire people has changed.
  • All the above has had a profound impact on the Executive Search Industry.

 

However, all changes may not be in the best interest of the Executive Search Industry, neither the hiring Companies nor the Candidates entering an Executive Search Process.

 

The expression Executive Search has also become more diffuse, and not everyone has a clear understanding of what it stands for. “Executive" Search does not anymore always mean we are searching for Executive Management level persons. Today some Search Firms search for people also to entry level positions. Many Search Firms advertise a lot, also for low-level positions. The price-level varies a lot. Due to factors created by technology like the Internet and social media, e.g. LinkedIn, the threshold to enter the Search Industry is nowadays very low. It is easy for anyone to start an Executive Search Firm and call yourself a Head Hunter. Pretty much all you need is a computer and access to the Internet. Today there exist people in the Search Industry whose main goal is to “make a fast buck” and who only have one search strategy called LinkedIn.

 

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. Not all Search Firms are necessarily in the Client’s best interest.

 

So how do we know we get the quality and value for money that we want? Well, make certain you do a proper job when checking the Search Firms thoroughly before you make your choice. Below are some ideas for a checklist to begin with. You can add questions of your own. Start by getting the background. What is the Search Firm's history?

 

The single most important asset a company has is its people.

 

They are the ones that make things happen and determine the service level. It should be easy to get information about the Search Consultants, sometimes also about the Researchers. A top-level Search Firm pays attention to giving information about their services and their people. So, check the personnel! Do they seem to have proper education, relevant and long enough experience?

 

However, focus on the capability, not just the experience. An experienced top-level executive who has become a Head Hunter may be an excellent choice despite perhaps still short of experience in Executive Search. However, preferably he/she should be working in a well-established Search Firm. A top-level Executive is certainly “business savvy”, but likely needs help in the search process, e.g. with the research. 

 

When talking about the Search Assignment Position, also remember:

 

  • The higher up in the organisation, the more responsibility the incumbent has.
  • The more complex and diverse the job becomes.
  • The more challenging and demanding the job becomes.
  • Also for the Search Consultant and the Researcher who are in charge of the Search Process. The more professional expertise is required of them.

 

Furthermore:

 

  • What is the Search Firm's industry expertise like?
  • What kind of searches does it specialise in? What level of searches?
  • What are the Search Firm's finances like? (Good firms tend to be successful and financially sound, making a profit is a good sign, bad finances are often a bad sign).
  • What is the price level?

 

Then meet the Firm/the Search Consultant you think might have the potential to correspond to your needs.

 

  • Have a ready-made questionnaire of your questions, don’t just play it by ear.
  • Pay attention to what the Search Consultant and Researcher are asking.
  • Are they asking the right questions? Are they prepared? Do they seem genuinely interested or just in a sales mode. Does it show that they have done their DD of you?
  • Are they professional, are they convincing?
  • What is their Research like? What is their Best Practise like? What is their Knowledge Management like? What is their Customer Promise? What are their ethical standards and values?

 

The Search Firm references:

 

Just checking Search Firm ranking lists is not enough. Neither is just meeting a Search Consultant or a Researcher who gave a fantastic and impressing performance. Many persons can give good impressions, but it is the results that count, not the impressions. Also try to check their results. Can they deliver? Any references they can give you?

 

Bottom line: There is no magic formula as to what kind of a background a good Search Consultant should have. In my mind, checking this out, does not differ that much from looking at, e.g. a Candidate CV in a very important interview/hiring situation. Just think, do you think a Search Consultant might have what it takes? When meeting the Search Consultant, also ask to meet his/her Researcher that would be on the search team. If the Executive Search Firm is a top-level Search Firm, it should also have top-level Researchers. Should this not be so, ask why? How does this affect the search? There exist top-level Search Consultants (who do not have a researcher) who are perfectly capable of doing their own research. However, if the same person is doing everything, it is good to remember that the resources of just one person are always limited.

 

The moral of this article is: High quality always costs more, regardless of what industry, product or service we are talking about. If a company is about to start a Search Process to find a high-profile Senior Management Executive, to a position of business-critical importance, I strongly advise turning to a high-end Executive Search Firm.

 

For most companies, it is about more than just a Search Assignment. It is about finding a Trusted Partner with whom you can form a long-term and mutually benefitting Business Partner relationship. The Client is looking for a Strategic Business Partner with outstanding business acumen. The Client expects the Search Consultant to have an in-depth knowledge of the Client Industry and the ability to consult and give advice on issues relating to the Client’s business. This will cost more, true, but top quality and top expertise cost more.

 

For me, the expression high-end is not defined just by size or a position on some ranking list. I define a high-end Search Firm as a Firm that excels in the level of quality it delivers. For me a high-end Search Firm delivers high-quality service, highly qualified Candidates, and where the highest ethical standards characterise the service given by the Firm. Often high-end Search Firms are big globally operating Firms, but in my mind there exist also small and locally operating Search Firms that give excellent and high-quality service.

 

Yes, I know that high-end Executive Search Companies sometimes fail too. It happens. Errare humanum est. We all make mistakes. Sometimes you give it your very best thought, your very best try – and yet you fail. Sometimes your very best was just not enough. But in a high-end Executive Search Company, this is rare. That said, let’s be honest. Not all Search Consultants and Researchers in the world are as top-level as we would like them to be - not even in high-end Search Firms. (This unfortunate statistical fact applies in any industry. There are always exceptions.) But when this is the case, it is mostly an “isolated” local problem in a single Search Firm Office. This is exactly why you should always do a proper Due Diligence of the Search Firm. If you do this, you will find this out in advance.

 

For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. 

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage, where you are right now.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Top Level Executive Search

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AI is changing and reshaping the ways, methods, and practices of the recruiting industry even as I write these lines. AI is simultaneously both elusive and tempting. Those who are in favour of AI and strong advocates for the use of AI feel it promises us the world. I belong to those who advise treading cautiously with the use of AI in Executive Search. Especially so when talking about Senior Executive Management Search. Here I feel there are big risks.

 

I am not against AI, new ideas, development, and changes. I feel I am as Best Practice minded, Knowledge Management minded, Continuous Improvement minded as they come. When I was working as an Executive Search Research Manager, not a day went by without me trying to find a way to do something more efficiently and better. What I am saying is, be careful! Don´t use AI everywhere - just because you can. There are risks!

 

E.g., when the GPS tells people to go in a certain direction, a great many do so unconditionally. People have driven into the sea, off the road, into cul-de-sacs, into shopping centers, to the wrong city or even to the wrong country, just because some device has told them to do so. If the GPS tells people to turn right, many do so, even if there is no road. The same thing has already happened enough times with automatically driving cars to prove the same point. People have drunk coffee, read newspapers and even slept in the car when the car was driving, only to a little later die or kill someone else in a car crash.

 

We are not here only talking about “stupid” people doing stupid things. In my opinion, more like about an increasing, and already a rather common behavioral change among people, which is caused by blind trust in technology. We let technology take over, and then we lose control. Imagine a world full of automatic cars driving around according to what the GPS tells them. AI may indeed be an excellent servant if we get everything right. However, if we get it wrong, the expression dire consequences will get a new dimension.

 

AI can, e.g. certainly screen the Internet, and then, in a moment, print a Candidate list for you. However, if AI really could develop a list containing all the very top Candidates you are looking for, why would the hiring Company need the Search Industry in the first place? It could just buy some AI computer time and order the list itself. Don´t worry. It takes more than this. That said there will always be people who believe that AI has all the answers.

 

However, should we, in Executive Search, let AI do the Search and Candidate evaluation work in an ever-greater degree, our work will eventually be restricted to only reading Candidate lists provided by AI, without us not even knowing from where those names came from. On top of this are the moral and ethical dimensions. If you let AI decide who´s to become the finalist candidates in an Executive Search Assignment, you walk on thin ice.

 

The more we start relying on AI doing the job, the less important our trusted advisor network might start feeling. Our desire for developing good person to person relationships with top business people might start diminishing. Why should I waste valuable time on going to lunches with people to get an update on what’s happening in their industry, when I can ask AI, someone might think and instead increase his/her interaction with AI. This cannot have good consequences.

 

You may remember me saying something about blind trust in technology. There are already Search Firms whose Search strategy is called LinkedIn because they feel that this is all they need. However, if we are talking about Senior Executive Management Executive Search and the Search strategy is called LinkedIn, this is, in my mind, more like a disaster.

 

No matter what some may think of the benefits of AI, Top-level Executive Search is not quite so easy, that we could let AI do our work for us.

 

The importance of good personal relationships

In my mind, the only way you can develop into a top-level Executive Search Consultant is by meeting and working together with top-level Executives. This is about getting to know and learning about what the makings of top-level Executives are. Who they are, how they think, what they think, and why they think the way they do.

 

If you have developed a good relationship with, e.g. 100 top-level Executives, this is a tremendous asset. These people are at the top of their business and their industry. They know their products and services, their markets and the market trends inside out. Face to face, you can discuss things confidentially. Via these Executives, you may potentially gain access to their network. Each Executive may have a network of 100 top executives, potentially at your disposal. Who feels these relationships are not important for an Executive Search Consultant - that AI is better?

 

Some issues that must be discussed in an interview and where we need human input

  • Personal traits, general behavior, style, attitude, anything extraordinary.
  • Ambition level, goal orientation, career potential vs career ambition.
  • Key motivation factors, must-have factors, absolute motivation kill factors.
  • Core expertise, the substance, professional strengths, weaknesses.
  • Management/leadership skills, also vs expectations regarding their boss.
  • Decision making easy/difficult, fast/slow, pays attention to other’s opinions or not.
  • Delivery ability, timetables, quality of work, trustworthiness.
  • When the going gets tough, stress endurance, stress behaviour, can he/she cope?
  • Extraordinary achievements/failures.
  • Strategic skills, conceptual skills, problem-solving skills.
  • Analytical skills, mathematical skills, detail-oriented or sees the big picture.
  • Communication skills/Presentation skills - verbal, writing, listening, credibility.

 

Issues like chemistry, company cultural fit, humorous or not, if and why the Candidate is interested in the job, must be checked in person.

 

Subjects like strategic vision, goals, action plans, e.g. must be discussed face to face before the Executive Search Consultant knows what the Candidate stands for.

 

A human can recognise, analyse and react to issues which may impact on the interview, in a way that AI cannot. A human can, e.g., react to the tone of voice, the feelings and the emotional state of the candidate, the eye contact, the difference between normal nervousness and unnatural behaviour, see the difference between uncertainty, modesty, healthy confidence and unmotivated overconfidence.

 

A human can have a discussion with a pre-planned direction but also knows when there arises a need to move away from the plan and when to move the questioning into new areas.

 

A human knows when to change the line and tone of questioning in a situation requiring empathy, sensitivity, and flexibility.

 

A human can show interest in the subject discussed and in the Candidate. Talking to an AI-robot, that we all know could not care less, certainly must impact on the motivation and the answers given by any Candidate. How would you feel as a top-level Executive, if you would have to try to impress a robot? How do you connect with a robot? The answer is, you don't!

 

Lastly, I do not want to be the Devil's advocate, but what if AI has the intelligence needed, but one day not anymore, your or your Client's best interest in its mind?

 

For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage where you are now.

 

Here you can also have a sneak peek on the content of my book; e.g., the Author’s Note and the table of content - check under the heading The Book Presentation.

 

After that, you can also click my LinkedIn profile or Facebook.

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Some words about Best Practice

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A Best Practice is, by definition, a method or technique or process that is superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means. In the business world, Best Practices are developed to help us achieve and maintain high quality, eventually enabling us to achieve excellence. So, at least from this perspective, a positive and a recommendable approach in any business, in any industry.

 

Some are very much in favor of Best Practice, because of the positive impact they feel it can have on the business.

 

Others have the opposite opinion and feel Best Practice rules bring no good to anyone. Some even feel this is a vote of no confidence regarding their professional expertise or their Firm´s own Best Practice.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. All “true” top professionals, in any industry, understand that keeping an open mind and listening to others is a strength, not a weakness. Not listening might be one.

 

I, the writer of this article, look at Best Practice from a top-level Executive Search Researcher point of view. In an Executive Search process, there are always three parties involved:

 

The Hiring Company

Look at any international major market leader company in the world, and you will find that it has a Company Best Practice. Look closer; you will find that this also includes a well thought out Best Practice as how to recruit senior top-level executives.

 

The Executive Search Firm

Look at any international high-end Executive Search Firm, and you will find a well thought out Best Practice that concerns everything that happens in the Executive Search Process, from A to Z. When you want to evaluate an Executive Search Firm, check this out.

 

The Candidate

We do not talk about Candidate Best Practice, but that does not mean it does not exist. It just has another name. It is called Career Planning. Though perhaps not by definition, exactly the same, an active and well thought out Career Planning is, in my mind, similar to the concept of Best Practice. In Career Planning you try to figure out which is the best way to proceed on your career path, how to write your CV, how to contact a Head Hunter, how to behave in an interview, how to check out you future potential employer etc. So, I here take the liberty of using the expression Candidate Best practice.

 

Best Practice is above all a strategic tool. It does not tell us exactly what to do in every single moment, every single situation, every single working day. It is a framework, a helping guide if you like, that supports us in our work, but leaves room for personal decision making based on the situation at hand. 

 

Short term: To support you in your daily work as a look up when needed, to get ideas in your work or talking points, when, e.g. meeting Head Hunters, Clients and Candidates. At a minimum, to give you a direction.

 

Long term: When developing your work processes, a Best Practice guidebook + doing the job is a combination with better returns than just learning be doing + it helps to create a Best Practice mindset in your Firm.

 

Compare a Best Practice guidebook to traffic rules. We all follow them, not just because the law says so, but because we know it is the best way. That said, if we drive from A to B a 1 000 times, we always drive a little differently, due to the road condition, due to the weather, due to the rush hour, due to us sleeping badly last night and for a thousand other reasons. So, even if we pay attention to following the traffic rules, there is room for individual decision making based on the situation at hand.

 

A Best Practice guidebook is also a tool helping us to recognise the change, what’s coming behind the horizon, and introducing new ways of thinking.

 

A Company with a documented Best Practice everyone is committed to, will, in the long run, always outperform a company not having these things.

 

I feel the concept of Best Practice has a worse reputation than it deserves. Some reasons:

  • Some think Best Practice is just a set of complex bureaucratic rules some theoretic clerk in the back office, who does not know a thing about our real work, has created only to make our lives miserable.
     
  • Some misunderstand the concept, believing Best Practice guides always have 300 pages, are full of small print and have endless, difficult to understand, no good paragraphs.
     
  • Some feel that “My way” is the best. If you have 100 persons in a company with this philosophy, you will have 100 “My ways”. Just for clarity: “My way” is not a Best Practice.
     
  • Some feel that the Best Practice rules must always be followed even though they don´t feel relevant any more. Well, the world around is in constant change. Change your Best Practice accordingly. Otherwise, you might one day find that you are out of business.
  • Some feel there exist people/firms that are just born under lucky stars because they seem to succeed in everything they do. Look closer, and you will find they have a Best Practice mindset guiding them.

Lastly, some Best Practice related questions for you to think about:

If you are a frequent flyer, would you like your airline to have a documented Best Practice? We have all heard what can happen to airlines with no Best Practice.

 

Would you like the Captain of your airplane to have a Best Practice mindset, who also follows his/her Best Practice guidebook? We have all heard what can happen when this is not the case.

 

Would you like the company manufacturing your airplane to have a good Best Practice they follow? We have recently all heard what can happen when this is not the case.

 

Now imagine that you need to recruit a new CEO for the airplane manufacturer, the airline and a new Captain for a Jumbo airplane and that you need to use an Executive Search Firm to find them. 

 

Would you like that Executive Search Firm to have a documented Best Practice their Search Consultants and Researchers are committed to, or would it be ok if they just did the Search “My way”?

 

Imagine if all the answers would be no and what this might lead to.

 

If you are interested in learning more about why Best Practice is so important, look at my book How to recognise Excellence in Executive Search

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage where you are now.

 

Here you can also have a sneak peek on the content of my book; e.g., the Author’s Note and the table of content - check under the heading The Book Presentation.

 

After that, you can also click my LinkedIn profile or Facebook.

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Top-Level Executive Search and the Business World

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Almost every time I open my mouth, I say: After over 30 years of experience in Top-level Executive Search and more than 1 000 search assignments, I experienced and learned so much about Executive Search, that I want to share this with others, hoping as many as possible will benefit from this.

 

That is why I wrote the book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search, which is a best practice guide into Top-level Executive Search.

 

That is why I started to regularly publish Executive Search related articles here in the Author's Blog (the articles can also be found in LinkedIn as well as some posts regarding the same subject).

 

But who are all those people I wish to reach out to with my book? Well, anyone finding interest in Executive Search, but, people dealing with Executive Search are especially close to my heart and mind because here I believe the benefit potential is the biggest, e.g.

 

My book is for all those who are in the process of a career change or are perhaps about to start planning a career change. For anyone reading the book, it has a strong potential to increase the reader's chances to make positive career changes. It offers much useful information and advice. By increasing the reader's recruitment-related knowledge, it also helps create and strengthen a positive and confident approach to the Executive Search process (any recruitment process for that matter).

 

My book is also for all those who are recruiting people, e.g. for the Recruiting Professionals, HR-Directors, Executive Search Consultants, Researchers, and the others taking part in the Executive Search process, the Board Members, CEO,s, Senior Executives. The book certainly offers useful information, advice and ideas also for experienced professionals.

 

Sometimes, be it about an Executive Search process, about improving your overall knowledge of Executive Search or, e.g. about picking up ideas, subjects or themes to be used in HR-training, getting a new perspective is often useful. My book offers you that too.

 

I also want to benefit and promote top-level Executive Search in the business world.

 

First, a little background information. Today anyone can establish a Search Firm and call him/herself a top-level Head Hunter and indeed many do. Well, this is anybody’s privilege, and I wish them all good luck. Today there are Executive Search Firms and Head Hunters that also search for people to low level positions, even entry level positions. If this serves the business world, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

 

However, as the word “Executive” in the expression Executive Search nowadays do not anymore necessarily indicate that we are talking about Executive Management Level Searches, I have noticed that this sometimes creates confusion in the business world about what Executive Search and Head Hunting is all about. In my mind, there is a big difference between “entry position” level and Senior Executive Management level Head Hunting.

 

An example: Imagine we are talking about a billion-dollar company and a CEO job. The higher up in the organisation hierarchy we go, the more demanding everything becomes. The more responsibility and trust the incumbent has. The more complex, diverse, challenging and demanding the job becomes. The input and the actions of the CEO may be of such importance that it can determine the difference between success or failure for the entire company. Consequently, more professional expertise is also demanded from the Search Consultant and the Researcher, who are in charge of finding such a person.

 

Not recognising this fact, may lead a company to choose a Search Firm not corresponding to its needs, potentially leading to an unsuccessful Search Process. While failing in an entry level position Search is, of course, not a good thing, failing in a Search for a Senior Executive Director of strategic importance may be a catastrophe for the Company. 

 

Therefore, by sharing my experience and knowledge as I do, I also wish to:

a)     Increase the general awareness of what top-level Executive Search is all about.

b)     Increase the understanding of how important the Executive Search Industry is to the business world.

c)     Increase the appreciation of top-level Executive Search Firms (not all firms are in this category).

 

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. It is important to understand that not all Executive Search Firms are good just because they say so. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to say? How do you know which Executive Search Firms are top-level? Below some signs to look out for, when you are trying to find a Top-Level Executive Search Firm.

 

The trademarks of excellence – how to recognise a Top-Level Executive Search Firm?

  • A Top-Level Executive Search Firm always has top-talented and highly skilled people.
  • A Top-Level Search Professional also has the experience, both life experience and business experience. The business experience and perspective gives credibility and weight to the Search Consultant’s and Researcher’s opinions and advice and enables them to understand the Client’s needs so much better.
  • A Top-Level Executive Search Firm always has a top-level research function, a well-thought out best practice, a well-thought out knowledge management and cutting-edge IT-solutions supporting the business needs.
  • It always maintains high quality, high ethical standards and high confidentiality.
  • The business focus is to always act in the best interests of both the Client and the Candidate.
  • Check what your business world colleagues think of the Search Firm. If you can do this in advance, even better. It is always nicer to contact someone with good references.
  • Executive Search Firms are like all other Firms. They want to be successful and profitable. A very successful and profitable Executive Search Firm probably does something right, so also check the finances.
  • It is also good to understand that sometimes, even a “good” Executive Search Firm might be the wrong choice if it does not have the right Industry experience and expertise needed.
  • Pay some attention to the price. There may or may not be a correlation between the Assignment Price vs Quality. However, if one Search Firm offers the Search for 20 000 €, another Firm for 40 000 € and the third Firm for 60 000 €, maybe you as a Client should stop and think why this is the case. Maybe this reflects a difference in the service level, maybe not, but in life in general, top-level experts tend to be more expensive than others.
     

I would, e.g. not go to the cheapest doctors if I had a serious medical condition. I would try to go to the best ones because I know that the best ones are well educated, have the experience, are truly skilled top professionals and give high quality service. And yes, I know this will cost me more, but I am willing to pay to get a high-quality service. The same applies if I need the services of a Plumber, an Electrician and a Carpenter. I rather pay a higher price to ensure I get high quality service than take the cheapest Plumber, Electrician and Carpenter in the market and risk “ruining” my house.

 

Senior Executive Management Level Searches and Top-level Executive Search professionals just cost more. High professional expertise and quality usually do. That said, I am not categorically saying that you cannot get excellent service for a lower price too. It is always down to the person giving the service. There are always exceptions to the rule.

 

These are but a few examples. In my book, I address this subject both extensively and thoroughly, but in a short article like this, I can only talk about this very briefly.

 

Then some finishing words relating to my network activity.

 

Because there are only 24 hours in a day, I have not had the time to personally thank every person who has joined my network, no matter how much I have tried to do so. Therefore I here want to take the opportunity to, publicly, thank everyone for joining. It is always a privilege and pleasure to get someone into my network.

 

Increasing the awareness of and promoting top-level Executive Search can only be of benefit to anyone in the business world dealing with Executive Search.

 

To all those who are not yet in my network and want to promote and benefit from top-level Executive Search, I kindly invite you to join my network. The bigger the network, the better the impact. Just send me your network request, and I get you in.

 

PS. Always when I publish an article, I can almost hear someone out there saying: “This guy is just trying to sell his book.” To this, I answer: You are so right. What better way could there be for me to share my experience and knowledge for others to benefit than to get people reading my book.

 

I also regularly publish short Executive Search related articles (e.g., like this one) that are free and available to everyone. Short articles can never tell you everything a 270-page book can, but I hope they also can benefit someone.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The best way to do this is to first check out the content of my homepage where you are now.

Here you can also have a sneak peek on the content of my book; e.g., the Author’s Note and the table of content - check under the heading What is it all about.

After that, you can also click my LinkedIn profile or Facebook.

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Executive Search - The Candidate interview

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In any Executive Search process, there are three parties involved, the Executive Search Firm, the Client Company and the Candidate. Even though they all go into the interview room with a different perspective, they all have a similar approach: They all want to give a good impression to the other party, and they all want to do well. How you prepare for an interview, depends on, e.g. what the interview is about, who the interviewer is, how the interviewer is like, how you are like, what the people taking part in the interview want to achieve etc. We all have our ways to prepare ourselves. Not being prepared is not an option. Otherwise, the interview may become unstructured and unfocused, and lead to the interview ending to your dissatisfaction.  

 

Let us look at an imaginary Executive Search process from the hiring Client Company’s point of view. (However, nothing is stopping a Candidate reading this article from turning the table and look at this from a Candidates point of view.) There are a lot of steps in an Executive Search process. Every step and issue should, of course, always be meticulously planned and executed. We have now reached the Client Finalist interview stage in our imaginary Search process. The first Candidate, one out of four finalists, is waiting outside the interview room. How can we make certain we recognise which candidate is the right one for us? (If you are a Candidate, you think the other way around; How can I recognise if this is the right job and the right employer for me?).

 

When recruiting senior executive management level people, the Candidates are usually interviewed by many, the most “important” interviewer being the superior of the person coming aboard. Tens, maybe hundreds of questions, are asked, both by the hiring Executive and the Candidate, in the course of the interview. Each Candidate is often interviewed many times. So there is a lot to keep in mind when interviewing and making up one’s mind as to which of the Candidates is the best one.

 

When searching for, interviewing and evaluating senior executive management level people, there is much information to process. When I, as Research Manager, did research in an Executive Search process, I often found it useful to narrow things down and to focus on what is essential, that is, the important key factors and the must have factors. This kind of approach forces you to think and advance in a logical, structured and systematic manner, and as said, to focus on what is important and a must have.

 

In all simplicity, this translates into a checklist where you write down the key factors and must have factors in your project, whatever it may be about, e.g., research, a sales presentation, a Client reporting or as here, an interview. When interviewing Candidates, I sometimes used a “Candidate interview checklist”. There is no one and only “standard” checklist. It can be long, or it can be be short, but it must always be well thought out and fit the purpose. Below I show you just one example.

 

My “Candidate interview checklist” is a two-part checklist:

In Part ONE, you write down all the important key factors and issues you want to talk about and check in the interview. It is like a memory-checklist if you will, so you do not forget to ask something important.

 

In Part TWO, you write down the Candidate must have factors. Here you compare your understanding of the Candidates after the interviews vs the must have factors. Every job has must have factors. In some jobs, they may look so insignificant that it is difficult to notice them. In other jobs, they are “super evident", like, e.g. if you want to become an astronaut on a mission to Mars or a technical security director for a nuclear power plant. Also, every Senior Executive Management level job has must have factors.

 

Part ONE - Important key factors to be discussed when interviewing the Candidate

 

Characteristics

-         Personal traits, general behaviour, style, attitude, anything extraordinary to mention.

-         Ambition level, goal orientation, career potential vs career ambition.

-         People person or matter of fact person.

 

Motivation

-         Key motivation factors, must have factors, absolute motivation kill factors.

 

Profession

-         Core expertise, the substance, professional strengths, weaknesses.

-         Management/leadership skills, also vs expectations regarding their boss.

-         Independent actor or a team player.

-         Decision making: easy/difficult, fast/slow, a loner, or pays attention to other’s opinions.

-         Delivery ability, timetables, quality of work, trustworthiness.

-         When the going gets tough, stress endurance, behaviour, can he/she cope?

-         Nine to five worker vs never going home in the evening.

-         Can he/she prioritise, focus, also let go and relax when needed.

-         Extraordinary achievements/failures.

-         Why did he/she come aboard, why did he/she leave?

 

Mental capacity

-         Strategic skills, conceptual skills, problem-solving skills.

-         Analytical skills, mathematical skills, detail oriented or sees the big picture.

 

Communication skills

-         Verbal, writing, listening.

-         Ability to focus on the point, the ability to make everybody understand.

 

 Presentation skills

-         One to one/one to many situations, in the customer interface, in the management group, credibility.

 

Miscellaneous

-         Humorous or not. May sometimes be a very important factor.

-         Hobbies, any job relevant hobbies, some can be of use in the job, some the opposite.

-         Alcohol use, anything negative in this respect.

 

References

If you feel that your are talking to a potential winning Candidate, please remember to ask for references already now. Some persons feel uncomfortable about this. This is perfectly normal and may relate to e.g. confidentiality issues or bad experiences, so remember to point out that you will not contact anyone without his/her explicit permission. Some do not give their previous superiors as references, even though this would feel a good thing to do. If so, ask, can you talk to their previous superiors? If not, ask why. There may exist a perfectly acceptable reason for this, which is good to know to avoid making any wrong assumptions.

 

Part TWO - The Must have factors 

 

Below my suggestion for must have factors. There are only four of them. If the answer to any question below is no, the Candidate is out. This is what “must have” means. If you start compromising here, it is not a must have factor. Every employer decides for him/herself what the must have factors are in a job.

 

Does the Candidate have what it takes to do the job, e.g.:

Does the person possess the must have skillset required, be it, e.g. about some specific professional expertise, management skills, leadership skills, technological expertise, market experience, a unique understanding of some industry ecosystem or simultaneously a needed combination of all these?

 

Can I, the hiring superior, get along with the Candidate, e.g.:

Are our chemistry, our way of thinking, and working a close enough fit? Do our leadership styles fit?

Do we agree on the strategy and on how the job should be done?

Are our overall expectations of each other a close enough fit?

 

Can the Candidate fit into our company culture?

The hiring “superior” liking the Candidate may not be enough. There are other key people in the company too that the Candidate must get along with. It does not help if you get the best person in the universe if he/she does not fit into your company culture. Getting a potentially disruptive person into the executive management team might make the other key persons leave the company. Of course, if you are specifically looking for a person whose job is to change the company culture, this question gets a different meaning. 

 

We can get the best Candidate, but am I convinced that we can keep him/her?

Sometimes we get an opportunity to hire a superb top-level Candidate, a person any major market leader company in the world would be glad to have. Good as this feels, it may be worth reflecting a little about this.

 

Why does this guy, who could choose any company in town, choose us? Are we certain we can offer what he/she is looking for? To be certain, check that nobody, e.g. in the interviews said things about the job or company that are not true or over-promised something, by mistake or even worse, by purpose. That we have told everything just as things are. If not, the truth will be revealed the very first day on the job and what might that do to the motivation of our new world-class top-level executive.

 

I have during my career met more than one top-level Candidate who has come to my office two weeks after having started in his new job, telling me that the things were not at all as he was told in the interviews and that he wants to find a new job as fast as possible. Should this happen to you, the world-class top-level Candidate will find a new job easily, while your company reputation and credibility will get a heavy blow.

 

Even assuming that everything has been done by the book, you will not remain in safe waters for long. Because, I can assure you that many hiring companies in the market will be calling your new world-class top-level executive regularly (via their Head Hunters), even though he/she is new in the job. “There is no harm in asking; you can never know if he/she is interested in this job opportunity” is what they think. And sometimes they think right.

 

Bottom line: Can you hire the right people? Can you take care of them, guide them, support them, train them, develop them, reward them but, above all, can you keep them? It is not much use in hiring top talents if you cannot keep them. If your top executives move on to another employer every two-three years, there is something you do wrong. Find out what!

 

Therefore answering the question – “Am I convinced that I can keep him/her” is of some relevance here.

 

If you are interested in learning more, read my book How to recognise Excellence in Executive Search. Anyone dealing with Executive Search, who has this book is one step ahead of those who do not have it.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The easiest way to do this is to click my LinkedIn profile and/or check out Facebook.

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Executive Search - from a Client point of view

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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.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The easiest way to do this is to click my LinkedIn profile and/or check out Facebook.

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Executive Search - can it benefit my career plan?

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There are other ways of moving on in your career than by trying to become a winning candidate in an Executive Search Assignment, but the Executive Search industry is a recruiting channel of such potential, that it would be stupid to ignore it. Let´s start by checking out three questions: Can Executive Search potentially benefit my career? Should I include Executive Search in my career plan? Is making a career plan useful? The answer to all three questions is a BIG YES. Moreover, the more you aim for executive level positions, the more likely career planning will benefit you.

 

Not all people do career planning. There is no right or wrong here. Here the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In one end of the spectrum, we have those who meticulously plan every step of their career, what kind of industry they want to be in, what kind of job they want to do, when to change to the next job, to which level, to which pay grade etc. In the other end of the spectrum, we have those who “go with the river” so to say and more or less let fate decide where they go. The rest of us are somewhere in between.

 

Every one of us does change jobs. I would say that most people change jobs 4 to 7 times during their lifetime. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the majority of us probably fits into this range. We all know that a change will come, sooner or later. So, from a rational point of view, it feels logical to pay at least some attention to having a career plan. It is also good to remember that we are not always in control of when the job change comes.

 

Artificial Intelligence and technological change will for certain change the business world to come, big time. Many jobs and companies will disappear. New ones will appear but requiring new types of skills. Effective career planning keeps the business world on your “radar”. It may help you recognise which these new skills are, and now you have a chance to acquire them.

 

Today already ten-year-olds often know how to use, e.g. IT-, mobile technology and the digital media much better than many grown-ups do. Do you think you can match their skills when they are 25 years old, without doing anything? In the future, when you are 40 years old, and your competitor in the job market is 25 years old, do not count only on your experience to make you a winner. Perhaps it is the skills that someone has that decides who the winner is.

 

My Career Plan

Stepping upwards on the executive ladder requires so called executive level skills, e.g. management skills, leadership skills, strategic skills, conceptual skills, IT-skills, number skills, how to make and read action plans, budgets, investment plans, profitability calculations, income statements. You will also need good communication and language skills. Some industry-, product-, or service-specific professional expertise will certainly also be needed.

 

You need to know in advance what skills and professional expertise will be required. Part of your career plan should be about how to recognise the skills and expertise needed on your career path and how you can acquire them. They do not come by themselves. It takes both time and effort. Without a career plan, chances are you may not even be fully aware of what these skills are. If you walk into the Head Hunters (or any recruiters) interview without knowing what you want out of your future career or understanding what skills or expertise is required in the job you are going to talk about in the interview, chances are that the end result of the interview will not be to your liking. Here, good career planning might help. Experienced businessmen know how to do career plans, but that said, not all of us are “career plan wizards”. However, everything does not have to be clear cut.

 

Begin with getting your bearings. Make a list of jobs/tasks/functions you are interested in and why. Make a list of industries you are interested in and why. Make a list of companies you are interested in and again why. Then think about when you want to be in a certain job and why. Think about what it takes to get there. Now you have developed a basic career plan. The “quality” of your career plan will improve as you work on it. It is important that you come to terms with the real reasons for why you want a particular career path, be it about getting a new challenge, about more power and influence, a fancy title or just a higher salary. Otherwise, you may, by mistake, land a job where reality and your expectations do not correspond.

 

Develop a career plan stretching 3-5 years into the future. Try to avoid looking too far into the future. By the time you get there, it will anyway look so different from what you imagine now.  Some plan to become CEO of a billion € company already when they are 30 years old, but I believe in first proving your worth, before planning too far. So, at least for me, 3-5 years is long enough. Then, if you like, you can, once a year update your “plan”.

 

When making your career plan, make certain this is what you want to do. Not what somebody else wants you to do. Put your very best effort into this, but that said, do not take your career plan too “seriously and literally”. A career plan is only a helping guidebook if you will, on our journey in the business world. You will change your mind many times yet on what you would like to do as times passes. However, with a career plan as your guide, your journey will be easier.

 

When you have your career plan ready, you can start thinking about how you could best benefit from Executive Search. However, that´s too long a story to be told here.  For those who are interested in learning more, I would here like to repeat what I said at the end of my previously published LinkedIn article = “Executive Search – anything for me?” That is:

 

If you are interested in learning more about how Executive Search can benefit you as a Candidate (or as a Client), you can, e.g. read my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. I am not saying that my book is the only truth or the whole truth. It is not. It is only the opinion of one single person.

 

However, based on 32 years of experience in Executive Search, (the last 22 years in one of the world’s top-ten Executive Search Firms), and on over 1 000 Executive Search assignments, the book is in its own right, an excellent Best Practice guide for anyone into the subject of Executive Search.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The easiest way to do this is to click my LinkedIn profile and/or check out Facebook.

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Executive Search - anything for "me"?

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When hearing the words Executive Search or Head Hunter, most people prick up their ears and listen. Head Hunting sounds exciting, secretive, thrilling, like something involving the créme de la créme of the business world, like something that only happens in the upper echelons of major high-end companies and boardrooms. Many, if not most of us, have heard of Executive Search and Head Hunters. Business magazines write about Executive Search and Head Hunters regularly. The Internet is full of information about them, about the Executive Search process, how to prepare for meeting a Head Hunter in an interview, how to answer their questions, how to write your CV. All this in a hundred different ways. So, one would imagine there are no information gaps left.

 

However, it is impossible to learn everything about an industry, just by, e.g. searching the Internet. Also, the information on the Internet could have been written by anyone, anywhere, and who’s to say that the information has always been written in everyone’s best interest. Not to speak of the impact the local conditions and cultural differences that exist around the world, may have on the information given. What someone says about Executive Search on the Internet might be perfectly ok in a particular country, but perhaps not where you live.

 

Business magazines writing about Executive Search are usually more professional, and you can always see who wrote the article, so it is rather easy to check the reporter out. That said, short articles in business magazines, even at best, tend to be fragmented. You get bits and pieces, but never the whole picture. You also have to look elsewhere.

 

Many of us have met Head Hunters in person. Meeting a Head Hunter gives you a personal experience of what Executive Search is like, but not all Executive Search Firms are alike. If you visit five different Executive Search Firms, you get five different experiences. Neither does meeting a Head Hunter, even many times, give a deep insight into their everyday work, how they think, what they are like and what they do when you are not there. 

 

We cannot see behind the curtains of an Executive Search Firm, so despite all the information that´s out there, Head Hunting continues to feel exciting, mysterious and thrilling for most of us. Having worked in the Executive Search industry for over 32 years myself, I too would say it feels exciting, mysterious and thrilling, still after all these years.

 

What Executive Search is all about is dealt with in great detail in my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. The book has 272 pages, which is a good indication that we are here talking about a subject that is a little more diverse and complex than just a few lines on the Internet or an article or two in a business magazine. 


Can Executive Search benefit me personally?

On a personal level, when hearing the words Executive Search or Head Hunter, many spontaneously start wondering, how can Executive Search benefit me? The answer to this question becomes particularly interesting and important for us when we decide to enter the job search, or we get a call from a Head Hunter, a job offer from a company or, e.g., unexpectedly become unemployed.

 

Today, meeting a Head Hunter seems to be a routine step in everyone’s career action plan. Nothing wrong with this, as long as we keep things in perspective. Think about this, statistically. If a Search Firm has, e.g. 100 Assignments a year, covering several industries and functions, everyone understands that you need a bit of luck to "get a hit", regardless of your background or professional expertise.

 

That said, contacting an Executive Search firm may at best benefit you big time. However, do remember what I said above, so you do not get disappointed, should the Head Hunter not call you according to your timetable. There is indeed a lot you can do to improve your chances. You cannot have any impact on when “you get a hit”, that is when the assignment suiting your profile comes in, but you can most certainly have an impact on the impression you make on the Head Hunter when approaching him/her, be it in person or by just sending him/her your CV.

 

Some time ago I did a Q+A article with Jason Starr from Dillistone Group, where I commented on issues related to the text above, I, e.g. answered the question: Your book gives advice to executives who are in the process of a career change. What is the most important thing for them to know? The answer to this question fits very well here, so please have a look at that article too (after you have read this one). You can find the Q+A article here.

 

Paying attention to finding the Executive Search Firms that you feel are in your best interest might further improve your chances. Look for Search Firms that are recognised by their high standards and high-quality service. That may sound more difficult than it is.

 

You do not need to be an expert plumber, carpenter or electrician when you are looking for one, do you? The same applies when you are checking out your Search Firm. You check their background information. Does everything look logical and ok? Do they look like they have the right type of professional expertise required? Do they have enough experience? Also, are the finances ok? A firm that is continuously profitable over the years is more likely to have things in order than an unprofitable firm. You can also try to find people from whom you can ask for references. It will be worth your while. It is always good to know who you are dealing with, in advance.

 

Here I have barely scratched the surface of the subjects discussed. If you are interested in learning more about how Executive Search can benefit you as a Candidate (or a Client), you can, e.g. read my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search. I am not saying that my book is the only truth or the whole truth. It is not. It is only the opinion of one single person.

 

However, based on 32 years of experience in Executive Search, (the last 22 years in one of the worlds top-ten Executive Search Firms), and on over 1 000 Executive Search assignments, the book is in its own right, an excellent Best Practice guide for anyone into the subject of Executive Search.

 

First, of course, check me out. Does the guy who wrote this article look like he knows what he is talking about? The easiest way to do this is to click my LinkedIn profile and/or check out Facebook.

 

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