The Changing Face of Executive Search

There was a time when you could sum up the recruiting business by saying “search firms are for clients, job boards are for candidates.”.   Covid put paid to that.

Executive recruiting today has become more homogenous.  It always was a comprehensive package with two essential components – matching and meeting the specific needs of both the company and the candidate – but the talent turbulence is subtly playing with priorities.

Take the client.

Two years ago, an executive recruiting firm would most likely be responding to the initiative of a client who knows – or believes he knows – what he wants and who also knows that when recruiting for a C-suite position, the best-fit candidates are not usually found on the job market.

The critical value-add sought from the search firm is a “partnership” leading to confirmation of the precise need and then finding the best talent for both the job and the employer culture. Post-Covid, we can expect a rebalancing of that partnership from being reactive to moving closer to the origination of the process. 

The vast majority of businesses are undergoing significant change in their workforce composition.  Top talent is going to review life choices leading to departure or perhaps to more self-satisfying conditions such as remote work which may not be acceptable to the company.

Companies likely have lost a lot of people already and this will pre-occupy the talent department but the good managers will also be looking out further — at a less cluttered view of their total human resources, evaluating what is now there and being creative about what is not there.  After all, if your home is wrecked by a tornado, you do not necessarily rebuild it exactly as it was.

This greenfield approach to talent is something that enterprising search firms should seize on.  Retained executive search has always been a management consulting process but now needs to become even more entrenched.  The recruiter can pro-actively become a part of the resource planning and identification process whether or not a specific search mandate is on the table.

I would imagine that smart businesses (if they have not done this already), will turn away from competitive tenders for every hire, settle on the search firm they most trust, and put the firm’s best professional on a standing corporate talent management committee.  I ran a service company back in the day with a client that supportive of my goals that I would walk on broken glass for them.

In the meantime, has life changed for the candidate?  Of course.

We’ve been in this chaos long enough for motivated top performers to be re-assessing their future.  That review will be based in their own, likely revised, work-life expectations.  They will also be influenced greatly by how their employer reacts to this new situation.  Most companies make loud proclamations of how they value their people and how their most important assets are those who go home at night.

Those assets may already have made a decision to look elsewhere. They are more likely to still be pulling down a paycheque but with less enthusiasm. And push has come to shove.

Is the talk getting walked?  Is there genuine interest and concern for the uncertainties facing staff ?  As time goes on and the pressure on the bottom line remains, employees are sensitive to how they are treated –- as precious cargo, or flung overboard to lighten ship? 

An interview in HuntScanlon Media summarized employee attitudes this way:

“People generally prefer to work for a company that is genuine and sincere, with a real sense of purpose. Employees will be thankful for sacrifices made on their behalf to help sustain the business beyond the Covid recession. 

On the other hand, candidates might be more open to move if they see that their employer doesn’t value them quite as much as they had thought.”

This in turn creates opportunity for a progressive search firm.

If indeed the best-fit business has become strategically better balanced between searcher and searched (see opening paragraph above) then one of the key improvements will be longer-term nurturing of talent-in-waiting

Search professionals are inundated with candidate CVs of varying value.  Hardly, if ever, does an unsolicited CV meet an open need. The pros, however, deal with everyone courteously and helpfully when they can, anxious to create a good memory of the experience for the applicant who may end up in a hiring position somewhere. 

Post Covid, many firms are extending that brief relationship with a future candidate. Here at Cornerstone International Group, we offer ongoing contact for relevant news and refer people to reputable executive job directories such as the AESC’s Blue Steps. Some of our colleagues offer accelerated coaching programs to refine the job seeking process.

In the meantime, consultants pay closer attention than ever to their key client companies, sensing who might be restless and keeping running, personal SWOT assessments.

It’s not new, and it’s not rocket science.  But it is gradually changing the face of the talent market.

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