How to ensure maximum return from your retained head-hunter

It is around this time of year when business owners write about their business’ performance over the last year. 

An experience I have recently gained through working with a referred client, has made me reflect on the year from a client’s perspective – what areas have returned the best results versus experiences that could have gone smoother.

Putting this into context, I worked with a large German owned building products client last year to recruit three Managing Directors. I had previously worked with one of the retiring MDs back in 2013. Being part of a regional “peer group”, a CEO contact of his asked if he knew of any retained head-hunters he could recommend. This CEO took over the running of an insurance business that had and continues to forecast substantial growth over the coming years and she had been assembling a new leadership team. The final, and critical part, of her leadership team jigsaw was securing a new Sales & Marketing Director.

Long story short, through the referral, Collingwood secured the assignment and I met with the CEO in November. Clearly, selling financial services through a national brokerage network is very removed from my bread and butter world of the built environment!!  Well, forward winding to final interviews and the board had the pleasant, yet tricky predicament, of choosing from three strong candidates, with the CEO emailing Collingwood’s MD stating her delight with the process and result. However, reflecting on this, there were a number of processes the CEO adhered to in insuring she gained maximum value from our services. Some may seem obvious but believe me I can think of a number of clients that do not practice them:

Clarity of brief:  Having spent time ahead of our meeting it was clear this CEO knew exactly what she was looking for in her business. Upon meeting with her, a little probing was required and she outlined a small handful of skills, behaviours and experiences that this new recruit would need to have. This enabled me to prioritise three major areas to research, leading to a precise, genuine headhunt rather than a conducting a scatter gun approach leading to a numbers game. In turn, this led to developed conversations with the audience. With availability of information online, individuals are “headhunted” more frequently over recent years. When I approach highly targeted candidates, they inevitably warm to the conversation quickly due to the relevancy of the job I am approaching them for.  Somewhat dubious, only partly relevant approaches lead to head-hunters and clients shooting in the dark, with stronger targets being lost in the sea of volume.

Clarity of cultural fit:  Although only two years into her role, this CEO had spent time reflecting on what makes an “x” factor person; what the business historically stood for; how the teams would want to be managed and how change would be best delivered. This allowed me to interview against very clear guidelines. I met with seven long-listed candidates, selecting four for interview with the client. Hey presto, my top three candidates moved through to final stage.

Speed of the process:  The CEO listened to the feedback I delivered, having met with the seven candidates and, in particular, how I prioritised the candidates and any alternative interview processes these candidates were also involved in.  One of the three favourites was actively looking and was likely to be off the market within a two-week window. I appreciate this is an SME business and thus flexibility is a little easier, but the CEO first interviewed inside a week of my feedback and final interviewed, with three directors, herself and the Chairman, the following week.

Consistency in approach:  With any assignment I approach the market with a diluted version of what has been explained to me at client briefing stage. This information is then expanded upon in the assignment specification (job description) and what I discuss at my face to face interview stage. Collectively, we need to deliver the same message to each candidate, what the business stands for, what it is like to work there, its purpose, vision and values and what's in it for the candidate. In this instance our messages were aligned, leading to no time wasting from any party – ultimately candidates walked away from the CEO meetings wanting the role as it was what was sold to them at my initial approach stage.

Making the candidates feel warm of fuzzy:  Sounds odd, but these were headhunted candidates and did not need a new role. The CEO appreciated the need for interviews to be a two-way process. Businesses often purport to having strong embedded values but sometimes do not exude them, or even display a human element whilst interviewing. Furthermore, the CEO spent time putting together the offer to reflect what the chosen candidate had requested and spent time with him over the phone post offer during a weekend, welcoming him to the organisation and inviting him to the company’s annual meeting, which will happen ahead of him working his notice. Although this did not put a major dent in her schedule, some clients are unable to see the massive value in this approach.  Ultimately it further strengthened their relationship.

Okay, so the financial services market may have been foreign to me, but through the CEO ensuring the above steps were covered, this enabled me to use Collingwood’s tried and tested, rigorous and robust executive search / headhunting process. To a degree, it does not particularly matter the skill set or industry a good head-hunter works within as long as they have a system that works and a client who understands the importance in partnership.

Please contact Mark Goldsmith, Senior Consultant, on 00 44 1829 732374 if you would like to find out more.