“Hiring is your most important task,” said the late Steve Jobs. Considering a wrong hiring decision can be extremely expensive to repair, let’s look at some recruiting options.
Ideally, a succession plan will have an internal candidate ready for promotion: advancing a rising star’s career and providing continuity with minimum controversy and a positive message to the workforce that capable people who do well will be recognized and rewarded.
Often, however, hiring from outside is required. If the company has a competent HR recruiting function, direct ads and in-house screening may be effective for lower and some midlevel positions.
For more important midlevel management or specialist positions, outside assistance may be needed. There are many recruiting companies. By going to any networking event, it is hard not to collect business cards from such firms.
Most recruitment firms offer contingency searches. Usually the process begins with interviewing the hiring managers and agreeing on a job description and compensation range. The recruiter ideally provides a long list of candidates and works with the client in coming up with a short list. In reality, the contingency recruiter usually relies on names from their database, or active job seekers. The recruiter may do some fundamental reference and credential checking before the final offer is made. The success fee is normally in the range of 20 to 30 percent of the first year compensation, including regular bonuses.
For lower-level positions the contingency approach is preferred, since a wrong hire is not likely to be a strategic setback. However, a hire of the wrong senior manager can be costly in terms of negative impact on the organization and lost time.
Some recruiting companies claim they do both retained and contingency searches. In reality, these are contingency recruiters that are thrilled to be paid up front – but still deliver a contingency-class service.
There is also a small number of retainer-only search consultancies that focus on identifying, evaluating and attracting “C-suite” executives (CEO, head of region or country and positions reporting directly to the region/country head) – and sometimes accept engagements one level lower. These senior professionals partner with the client in a consultative process aimed at selecting organizational leaders. Success in these partnerships depends upon a shared focus built on trust, candor and responsiveness throughout the process.
The search is conducted through an exclusive engagement with fees billed at the start and throughout the process. Consultant and client collaborate in determining leadership needs and defining executive positions. The consultant leads in identifying well-qualified individuals, selecting those best suited through a comprehensive evaluation process, and convincing them that the company/opportunity is a proper step in their career progression. Meanwhile, retained search consultants provide employers regular, detailed progress briefings.
This methodology proves to be the wisest option for senior leadership and other strategically critical hires. Some employers avoid retainer search due to the perceived costs, although in reality the total amount is not significantly higher than a contingency fee, and the risk of lost opportunity cost or reputation damage is greatly reduced. Most retained search firms are paid the equivalent to 33 to 35 percent of the total annual compensation, or in some cases a fixed fee not linked to compensation.
According to the Association of Executive Search Consultants, “Retained executive search consulting is a specialized form of management consulting. In addition to locating high-quality candidates, the retained search firm should provide information and feedback that not only helps direct the client’s search for executive talent but can also be used to run the client’s business more effectively. This feedback may include general market research regarding how the client’s organization is perceived in the market, competitive intelligence, and what kind of recruiting strategies may or may not be working at any given point in time.”
Retained searches most commonly take place when one or more of the following conditions apply:
Replacement of incumbent: There are times when a very high level of confidentiality must be maintained. As with other professional services firms – attorneys, accountants and strategic consultants – disciplined senior executive search professionals fully understand how to work with total discretion.
Difficult to find individual: Access to high-level executives who are not on the job market is fundamental, as is capability to invest time and resources thoroughly researching the target universe to identify key players.
Difficult internal promotion: Shareholder compliance (or internal debate) may necessitate a thorough look at external candidates in conjunction with independent evaluation of internal candidates.
The retained consultant will invest much more time than a contingency firm in understanding the client’s corporate culture, key executive personalities, vision, strategy and business objectives, and will be able to communicate this effectively to qualified individuals. Out of this process may emerge the “compelling story” critical to attracting a star executive.
A retained search firm will rigorously conduct reference checks with a broader range of people than those suggested by the candidate. It is in the best interest of the consultant as well as the client to flag concerns before an offer is finalized.
Most companies say “people are our most important asset,” yet often default to hiring friends of friends, applicants from newspaper or Internet ads, or resumes thrown at them from many sources. This may work for lower/midlevel positions, but tossing the dice when filling any key leadership role isn’t acceptable in today’s corporate environment.
In summary, there are a broad range of situations requiring different hiring strategies. The hiring executive has several options, and one recruiting strategy rarely fits all needs.
by Tom Coyner. Senior Advisor, IPG Legal.
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