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What's the Difference Between Executive Search and Recruitment?

Published 25th August 2022
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What's the Difference Between Executive Search and Recruitment?

Published 25th August 2022

This is an obvious statement but an important one nonetheless - recruiting to senior management/Board positions is different from acquiring lesser-qualified staff.  They present different challenges, one is no easier than the other… in fact, they are both difficult – that’s why the recruitment industry exists after all.

I believe (and experience suggests) that the more senior the vacancy, the more boxes our customers are likely to want to be ticked by the successful candidate.   Hiring managers become more selective, more risk averse and have a tendency to procrastinate. Hiring at an executive and senior management level is about reviewing your business's overarching goals, rather than focussing on short-term operational needs and tactical tasks that need completing.

Involve key decision-makers and agree on a process

Many businesses get it wrong at the start – mainly because too many decision-makers want to have their say.  So it is essential that you decide on the type of person you need and ensure that all key internal stakeholders, such as fellow Board members, agree on the job and person specification. Make a written statement of intent and apportion tasks, including:

  • Draw up a detailed job spec and agree on it with the internal team. 
  • Most importantly agree on a person's specification as a personality type (competencies) and motivational preferences are critical to success – do not just hire someone who is the same as you, you need different personality types to create a balanced team.
  • Understand what you need (to help take your business to the next level) as opposed to what you want right now to ease stress or take an operational box.  We have a saying in exec search – “start with the end in mind”.
  • Decide on your interview methodology and make sure you have answers to the following questions:  
    • Would an external expert on the panel help?
    • Should you use a psychometric assessment tool?
    • How many stages are there to the process? 
    • Do you want to include a candidate case study or presentation?
    • With the above in mind, how do we maintain engagement with candidates to ensure they want our role over others?
  • Publicise your opportunity – be innovative with the way that you market the vacancy to help you as an Employer Brand to stand out from the crowd. 
  • Decide which search consultant you will use.  (We’re great by the way and our flexible approach to invoicing means we won’t cost as much as a London-based head-hunter).
  • Hire someone who lives close enough to the main place of work as this de-risks the appointment considerably.  Starting a new job is stressful enough without having to move house and negotiate the kids changing schools.
  • Make sure you know who is going to take the lead on due diligence and reference checking.

This is a brief selection of elements from a long list needed to ensure success, and every case will have its own nuances. Sitting down and planning each individual staff member’s role in the campaign will save time and help avoid damaging oversights.

Engaging with talent

Identifying and engaging with top talent is easier than it once was due to obvious networking solutions like LinkedIn.  Much of the research done ahead of a headhunting campaign is done on this social media channel. Effective head-hunting is still very much a “dark art” though as candidate motivators tend to be weaker than those who approach you looking for work first.  And, oh boy, it can be time consuming!  As anyone knows who ash spent any significant time doing true headhunting, days or weeks can disappear as the head-hunter follows a rigorous process of multiple Boolean search strings and nuanced teaser emails.  Eliciting interest or turning the right person’s head takes far more than just sending an email to a prospect you’ve come across on LinkedIn, which in itself is likely to get lost in the excessive ‘noise’ of the internet.  

This is where real engagement is critical.– it is essential to pick up the phone, sell the opportunity and bring your brand and Employee Value Proposition to life. This is why most businesses engage with us here at Macildowie Executive Search. The process of identifying and then communicating with the best executive talent in the market can take a lot of time, especially when the majority aren’t actively looking for a new job – again, you have to work hard to nurture and entice the best people.  Not easy when many are tied in with incentives of one sort or another.

Consequently, engaging with the top talent in this way is hard work and is typically outsourced to Exec Search firms like us who are well-versed in these “dark arts”.   

Protecting your brand 

A word of caution now…

Beware if you choose to advertise a senior vacancy, you could receive hundreds of applications. A number of candidates will often ‘fit the bill’, creating work in sifting through applications and talking to ‘prospects’ before drawing up a shortlist. It’s important to consider candidate experience and ensure that they hear from you and gain feedback, especially if you’re a B2C or “business to consumer business” and the people applying for your job are also potential customers.  This is an aspect of senior recruitment that is often overlooked and it can be brand damaging.

When we work with you on a senior assignment, we craft the advert with you and manage responses in a way that we are always being complimented on by my applicants.  We often put together an experience questionnaire that we use as an initial sifting mechanism if you choose to advertise the position.  As well as protecting your employer's brand by ensuring every application receives a response (from you or us), it also puts the onus back on the candidate to bring their own experience to life for the specific role applied for.  When we relay this information to our clients, the hiring managers love it.  Furthermore, candidates believe it gives them a great opportunity to “sell” themselves in order to secure an interview.

Quality vs quantity

We utilise this methodology to move from a prospect list to long list.  We meet many in the prospect list and all in the long list to (ideally) have a pool of between 8-12 candidates to then advise you on who to meet.  To be clear, in many roles there is no “long list” as the role is so niche or market conditions so tight. In these instances, the talent pool is one or two people.  It’s the methodology of getting there that is important – i.e. ensuring the seam of potential talent has been thoroughly mined.  As always, success is measured by quality, not quantity.

Become a talent magnet

After narrowing the field in this way, we help you to agree on the methodology to underpin your interview process, in order to ascertain each candidate’s technical, competency and motivational acumen.  The interview process is not one-way.  As is ALWAYS the case, you are being judged too.  Even if you know the person is not right, sell you, your team and your business. No business can afford detractors these days and you never know what doors might open in the future as a result of positive interaction, even if the immediate outcome isn’t what a candidate hoped for.

These days with the cost of living and inflation creeping up, reward packages are back under the spotlight.  For years one of the top “must haves” on the exec candidate’s wish list was flexible working.  It still is. However, basic remuneration was way down the list.  Not anymore. It is back up high on the agenda, along with other material benefits, especially long-term performance incentives.  In this regard, we will also benchmark competitors to understand how your salary and remuneration package compares. If you want the best you need to work out a suitable reward strategy, including:

  • A car (or car allowance)
  • Bonuses for high achievement
  • Long-term incentive plans for creating strategic value
  • Increased company pension contributions
  • Private healthcare 
  • Life insurance
  • Competitive annual leave entitlement
  • Car parking (if onsite)

In summary

Around 30 percent of managers and executives leave their new job within 18 months of starting. Identifying future leaders from within and succession planning can negate the need to look beyond your own organisation. However, if you do recruit externally, make sure the job lives up to expectations and you have spent both time and money on a quality onboarding experience.  You simply must give the new person a chance to succeed and fully engage them from day one. 

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