Everyone knows the dominant accepted truth governing search firm selection is:
Better access to candidates comes from search consultant/candidate relationships that are built up over time. So if you hire a firm with recent and relevant search experience to what you need today, and this firm has a history of conducting searches similar to yours, then the search consultant and firm will have better knowledge about and access to better candidates.
However, this accepted truth is built on a series of false assumptions all stacked up one on top of the other, just like a house made of cards that collapses when the cards are removed one-by-one.
Assumption 1: Recent and relevant search experience means a search consultant has a bigger and more up-to-date rolodex, e.g. greater knowledge and information about where people are today (the companies with which they are employed and their positions), and how to contact them (email and phone numbers.)
Reality: Knowledge of where people are and how to contact them is a commodity in today’s internet age. The up-to-date biographical, resume and contact information on most to all of the individuals who would be considered as potential candidates on most senior searches is readily available through a variety of online sources. Additionally, research, once a mainstay of most search firms, is now an outsourced service.
Bottom line, there is little proprietary information out there about where people are and how to contact them. The bigger and more up-to-date rolodex is a myth. As a result, the playing field has been permanently leveled. There is little to no advantage that any search firm has today over another with respect to knowledge about whom candidates are, where they are and how to contact them.
Assumption 2: Candidates are more willing to talk to search consultants they know and who know more about them as a result of their past contact with each other.
Reality: The knowledge that is gained about a candidate through the normal and traditional search process as practiced by virtually all search consultants is cursory and focused on surface information. The average interview between a search consultant and a candidate lasts one hour, 15 minutes which is spent on social grease, 15 minutes spent on talking about the opportunity, and 30 minutes which are spent interviewing the resume.
When a search consultant completes an interview, a face and a personal point of connection has been added to the process. THAT’S ALL. Very rarely if ever does a candidate leave an interview with a search consultant saying, “I learned more about the opportunity, what they were really looking for and got real insights into the company and the position.” Very rarely does a search consultant leave an interview with a candidate saying, “I discovered tremendous details about this person, what they did, how they did it, what makes them tick, what their leadership potential and capacities are, and how they could impact my client.”
The bottom line is that most search consultant and candidate relationships are at the surface level. There may be history there, but it is largely meaningless.
Since the playing field of rolodex and contact has been leveled, companies are finding out that the most important criteria is to have a search firm that understands how to quickly gain critical knowledge of their company, business issues and performance values, and through these initial interactions deepen the definition and awareness of the position and its potential strategic impact. However, most search firms have a weak capacity to gain this deep level of understanding required of the client company, their culture and the role, let alone the ability to determine the right candidates.
© 2007 Selker Leadership LLC