Contingent Vs Search

The real benefits of signing off an Executive Search campaign.

Recruiters are not shy when it comes to pitching a search. From day one it is drilled into our very souls that winning a search is the best way to guarantee a fee, exclude competitors and raise our personal brand in the market.

But what’s the real advantage for you as the client? When should you say yes and what criteria should you use to assess the over-enthusiastic and hyperbolic bleating sound that is coming out of the end of your phone? In short, how do you spot the difference between a genuine offer of help and someone just trying to sell you magic beans?

But why get married when you can just play the field?

At Ernest Hunter Green we value the partnership and trust that we build with our clients, and so whenever a search is considered as a possible solution, we don’t just think of how it will benefit us, but also about how it will benefit our client. In the end, a search is just one of many options to be considered (and often discounted) with each role, and by following this simple checklist of criteria it will soon become clear when a search is the most appropriate solution to sign off.

  • Controlling the process

Running a search process allows you to agree and control a definite timetable with a recruiter, where you can schedule weekly (even daily if you need to) updates on progress. To badly misquote Donald Rumsfeld, you need to know your unknowns just as much as your knowns. No sale is ever standing still – it’s either going forwards or it’s going backwards. And it’s okay if it goes backwards for a day or two, as long as all parties are aware and honest about how to get it back in the right direction. Feedback from the recruiter back to you is just as important as the briefing you give to them, as they are at the coal face taking your role to market. And let’s face it, you’re never going to give up your time to respond fully to all the questions from every single recruiter on the role. And once that communication breaks down, everyone loses.

Communication is key to controlling any recruitment project, and when there are multiple agencies involved at the same time then it can seriously muddy the waters. Candidate duplication issues aside (let’s face it, no one likes them!) how can you ensure that the carefully articulated briefing you prepared and delivered to a room full of competing peacocks (sorry, I mean agencies) will survive intact onto each agency’s job advert, email list, inmail project and headhunt call in exactly the way you meant it to be. It’s a classic case of Chinese whispers and it can serve to dilute your message and the brand, and in the worst cases can give the impression to potential candidates that no-one really knows what’s going on or has control over the process. Cue the talent exodus.

A single, well-briefed and informed recruiter will be your mouthpiece, your brand ambassador, your beacon in a sea of mismanaged vacancies.

  • Speed to hire

How important is it to you and your business that the role is filled quickly? What pressure are you under internally and what are the risks if this role is still vacant in six months? Is the business losing money as a direct impact of no one being in the role? How it is impacting the other members of the team/function by not having this position filled? (And I don’t just mean their workload, I mean their wellbeing).

It’s a common misconception that an urgent role needs as many hands on deck as possible in order to cover the most amount of candidates. That’s not a process – that’s a stampede! Having 50 semi-qualified and poorly briefed candidate CVs land on your desk within 24 hours may give the illusion of progress, but if you are having to go through that many CVs yourself, what was the point in briefing any agencies in the first place? It just slows you down and turns you into a Bisy Backson. (Wow, Rumsfeld to Winnie the Pooh in a matter of paragraphs, we’re in uncharted territory here).

A search will deliver on average between 5 and 8 shortlisted CVs. Make no mistake, these will never be the first CVs that the recruiter finds on their desk and they will not be with you the same day. Oh no, these CVs will be the result of blood, sweat and tears and a rigorous process of screening, qualifying, follow ups, note-taking, internal interviews and rejecting. Then, and only then will the shortlist be ready to show you. But, oh what a shortlist it will be! And the best part? This could be no more than two weeks after the search has been signed off. And by pre-booking internal diaries for first and second stage interviews, you are free to slot the chosen candidates straight into an interview process without skipping a beat.

  • Cost

Does money pay a factor in this hire? Let’s turn the tables for a second and think not what it will cost to run the search, but what it will cost not to run the search. Loss of productivity, loss of morale, loss of direction and leadership if the role is a senior one, and very importantly loss of time – your time in particular. Okay, let’s turn the tables back around again and be honest; a search can cost more than a contingency process. However, that cost is always negotiable and you can always walk away if you feel the price is ultimately wrong. You can also negotiate the structure of the search. Don’t want to pay big upfront? Sure, just back end the majority of the cost. Don’t want to pay a shortlist fee? Sure, just do an upfront and completion fee. Nervous about the salary you may need to offer on the role? Sure, just agree a maximum fee cap or a fixed fee arrangement. Money should never be the driving force behind a decision to run a search or not, but it is something to be upfront about early on.

  • Easing your workload

The whole point of a search – aside from filling the position of course – is to take the pressure off you and your team and save you time. Whether you are part of HR, internal recruitment, or a line manager growing your team, you are undoubtedly busy enough in your day job. A search will take away your extra workload. Just think, no filtering ad responses, no dealing with direct applicants calling up without warning to chat through the role, no sitting in endless first stage interviews trying not to lose the will to live whilst totally inappropriate candidates are shoe-horning their experience into the spec before your very eyes. And don’t forget the endless feedback that you will be chased for. A search can make all of that go away. You will only interview the shortlisted candidates, you will only feed back on the shortlisted candidates, and you will only have to take one person’s call – that of your chosen recruiter. Oh, and did I mention that a search will also include all your internal applicants and those referred candidates that land on you from up high because someone important once played squash with their dad in the 80s.

And here comes the big close…

Considering a search is really a question of balancing your priorities and deciding how much you want to leave to chance versus how much you want to control your environment. From open and honest communication, to dictating the speed of the process, to managing the cost, to freeing up your time and the time of those around you, a search is a structure that can be adapted and flexed to suit you and the company you represent. It’s not right for every situation, but if even some of the above points ring true for you, then a search is a conversation you really should be having with your most trusted suppliers.