In the Author's Blog I collect all the articles I publish on LinkedIn, in one place and chronological order. If you want to stay informed about new blogtexts, get information about upcoming webinars and other news - please sign up for the CamdenPoint newsletter!
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.
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.
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.