How to get the best out of your Executive Search consultant

Sep 20, 2017

You’ve decided you need either to replace a senior executive in your organisation, or find a suitably qualified person to take up a new role on your team. The senior team has discussed at length the pros and cons of engaging the services of an executive search firm, and have decided that you don’t have the time or resources to manage a professional search and filtering process. And besides: the most desirable candidates are probably content with their current position, and not looking for a move. To take matters to the next stage, you’ve selected the executive search company you feel can work with.
What do you need to do to make sure you get the best result from your chosen supplier – and indeed, from the process?

Start focused
This would seem like an obvious one, but the ability and efforts of even the best consultant will be affected if there is insufficient clarity around the precise role, skill set and character-type of the candidate. Good consultants will help in crystallising your thoughts here, but they won’t have all the details in relation to the company’s business plan, short- and long-term objectives, and any recent internal organisational history that impacts on the position and the person who will fill it. By all means allow a trusted executive search consultant to complete a job description, particularly in cases where it is felt some aspects have been overlooked. But while experienced consultants will be able to infer most elements of the role description, it’s essential to capture and convey all of your own thoughts on the matter first, even if the initial spec includes the kitchen sink.

Start early
Obviously, if for some reason there is very little advance preparation possible when a senior hire is needed, then there can be little in the way of planning. More often than not, organisations – be they business enterprises or not-for-profit – identify the need for a new team member as part of their annual plan and presumably ‘work back’ from the ideal commencement date to ensure the search and recruitment process starts early enough. However, it is not uncommon for an executive search company to receive a brief – at a slightly panicked meeting in mid- to late September – to find a new senior team member for Q1 of the following year. It can take up to five months to complete a senior search assignment, from first meeting to joining date. Leaving the process until the last minute increases the chances that a critical role will remain unfilled for an unhealthy period of time, and that the temptation for expediency will see a less-than-ideal candidate chosen.

Choose wisely
It goes without saying that experience of your sector, network reach and suitable references should all be factors in selecting the right executive search company. You want them to have an ability to identify and reach candidates that at least matches your own – and then some. But perhaps one of the most important questions to ask yourself is “Do we trust this person/ company with our reputation, to be the right advocate, and to represent us the way we want?” Because remember, when an executive search firm is telling your story and pitching you to someone who could perhaps have the potential to be a future brilliant CEO, you won’t be in the room (or the hotel lobby, coffee shop or greasy spoon) with them. Your company’s ethos is precious, and may have evolved over many years. Be happy that your executive search firm is capable of representing your company with the same professionalism and care that you do.

Understand the Process
Your executive search firm’s approach may be distinguished by certain proprietary steps or procedures, but regardless of this, the process is going to include the following:

The Plan: this outlines the scheduled steps, week-by-week, month-by-month, that will be taken by the search firm, to include when and how your input is required.

The Hunt: perhaps of all the steps, this is the one that sets the search firm apart from an internal search team. This involves being able to ‘nose out’ potential candidates that are often operating in companies totally unknown to the client, and who may also be unapproachable (without the possibility of immediate rejection and loss of face).

The Sell: finding suitable candidates is one thing; persuading them they need a new job is another. A good executive search firm will know how to make your organisation and the role sound compelling, and worth the trouble of engaging in a process that will see one candidate offered the job, with many rejected.

Phone Filtering: this is a pre-screening phone call that reduces the list of Possibles down to one that only includes people who are definitely qualified to do the job.

The Face-to-Face: ideally, unless circumstances or geography rule it out, the search consultant will interview all the candidates before they go forward to meet the client. The skills and experience and the salary expectations have already been established. This is the stage when candidates’ likely chemistry with the client’s team, among them their physical and character presence, interpersonal skills, and other ‘soft’ but important attributes are gauged. This process is then repeated with the client. To whatever extent is required, the consultant can highlight different traits or characteristics of candidates before the client meets them. During and immediately after the process the consultant will interface with candidates to ensure they are as informed as possible in terms of feedback, while also managing their expectations regarding timescale.

The Offer (and Acceptance)… and the Let Downs
The search consultant plays an essential part in making the offer, getting the candidate ‘across the line’ (a badly-managed process can mean a candidate accepts an offer but is persuaded at the last minute by their employer or partner not to proceed). Until this is concluded – which also involves candidates handing in their notice (and we mean definitely handing in their notice) – the unsuccessful candidates must be kept on the line. And then, with the professionalism, tact and respect the unsuccessful candidates deserve – the search executive has to break the news to those who haven’t made it.

Onboarding (a.k.a. organisational socialisation): this is the process whereby the new candidate is helped to integrate properly into the new organisation. This, of course, is the job of the employer, but a good search consultant will maintain a watching brief over this, and with the client’s agreement, can maintain contact with a candidate to help ensure he or she is settling in properly.

Executive Search looks easy – but only at the end of the process when a great candidate is in place. It can be very difficult and time-consuming for a company to undertake on its own behalf. Investment in the services of a professional Executive Search company is a sound investment in any business, and if the process is fully engaged with by the client company, will provide a strategic and sustainable competitive advantage for the organisation.

Executive Search

‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do’ – Steve Jobs

Executive Coaching

‘Everyone needs a coach. We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.' Bill Gates


‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent’ – John Donne.


Why should you spend money assisting people who are leaving your company?