There are a lot of considerations you have to take into account when filling an open position on your executive team. You’ve decided to work with a retained search firm. But there are a lot of options out there and you’re not sure which firm is the best match for your specific needs.
There are firms that specialize in your industry and look appealing. They know the industry well and have built up relationships over time. While it may seem like a no brainer to select a specialized firm, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Specialized firms often have a harder time delivering the best candidates to you. This may sound counterintuitive, but there are three reasons why selecting a specialized firm may backfire.
The first question to ask a specialized firm is to see their client list. If they are unwilling to provide it, move on. This is a little known secret in the search industry, retained executive search firms more often than not, won’t and sometimes can’t, recruit from their clients.
Specializing in a specific industry means they are probably working with many of your competitors. This makes it much harder for them to access the best people and spread as wide a net as possible when recruiting to fill your position. Even if they know who would be a great fit, if the person is employed by a client, they are ethically and sometimes contractually restricted from contacting them.
The second question to ask is how often they scrub or update their database. Many times specialized firms just work their ‘rolodex’. So, when an opportunity arises, they tend to gravitate to the lowest hanging fruit and reach out to the same group of candidates who they have a closer relationship with. This doesn’t mean they are the best candidates to fill your position, but it’s the easiest path forward for them to present you with a slate of candidates without doing fresh research to match your specific needs.
People are more mobile than ever, and they may have recently taken a new role, moved to a new city, or retired. If the firm is not actively maintaining their database, the contact list is as stale as the last time they spoke with that individual. Many of these firms skirt this issue by recycling some of the same people over and over again. As a client, you won’t know this. The focus should be on finding the best candidates, not the most accessible ones.
The third question to pose is that of the process the firm uses to find you the best candidates to fill your open position. Specialized firms focus on the technical aspects of the role, but may not be aligned to the cultural needs of your organization.
Finding the best executives encompasses more than technical skills. Your culture is dictated by the executive team. Hiring one “bad apple”, even if they are a high performer, can have negative consequences across the organization. Specialized firms that don’t look at a candidate from a 360 degree view may not be able to find you those who are aligned with your culture. So candidates who look good on paper, but are a poor fit for your company, end up being a waste of your time to interview.
When selecting your executive search partner, take the time to uncover their process for identifying and vetting candidates. Specialized firms are not always the best partner for you. Technology has eliminated many of the benefits that specialized firms used to hold in identifying candidates.
Being a generalist retained firm does not indicate a lack of industry knowledge or capabilities. Many of these firms have recruiters who focus on industry specific practice areas, that are simply not limited to a specific industry and are able to source candidates more freely.