I close this series of blogs with probably the most risky one of all. Previously, I have written about being a great executive search candidate  and about being a great executive search client . Here I will explore what in my opinion it takes to be a great executive search partner. No doubt I will be held to account for these views for years to come – so, like all good consultants, I shall quickly caveat, and say that I shall talk in ideals and recognize that I amongst all, fall short of these ideals rather more than I would like…
I will start with a very personal statement: I love my job, I am proud of what I do  and after more than a quarter of a century I still get tremendous moments of joy and satisfaction from what I do. I say this to people outside of my profession, loud and clear, for two reasons.
The first of these is that all too often people assume that there is something shady about my profession or they think that we, in our industry, might want to pretend to be something we are not. Many times over I have heard the comment “ah yes, you people, don’t like to be called head-hunters, what is that you call yourselves, executive search consultants?” Or successful senior executives denying that they know us when they meet us in a public place, as if we represent something untoward or risky.
The second is that over my working life I have seen so many different industries and executives…I have witnessed all kinds of shenanigans, greed, corruption and stupidity. I have come to the conclusion, that when it is done right, our business can be one of the most honorable and decent businesses around. It is this message I would wish to share with any young associate, or young professional starting their career in executive search.
Which brings me to define what it is that we do. As executive search professionals we do three things for our client: we identify talent, we assess talent, we acquire talent. Period. We are not management consultants à la McKinsey , Bain  or BCG – despite what many of my fellow industry professionals would like to think. We have a particular business function and that is to help our clients be more successful by getting them the talent  they need, when they need to explore outside sources. Period.
Because I believe in a free market economy, because I believe in competition, because I understand the race and the pressure to acquire scarce and precious resources (in our case talent) I have an unwavering belief in what we do.
What does it take to do executive search exceptionally well?
- The first pre-requisite is a deep understanding of business – both in general and that of your client. Business knowledge gives the executive search professional insights, understanding and ideas of where to source talent.
- The second is research . There is no substitute for thorough, investigative research. It is the building block of a good search and of our industry. Though I fear that it is being lost in favour of over reliance on databases and LinkedIn .
- Thirdly, it is an evaluation of talent that goes beyond the superficial, that seeks to understand motivations, the evaluation that healthily applies cynicism, the type of evaluation that has one focus in mind: the best interests of your client.
- Fourth, it is the ability to influence, pursue and be the most powerful client advocate that you can in front of a candidate.
- And finally, as we all know, as we all repeat, mantra like, so much so that we might forget what it really means, is ethics. In our business we get to know sensitive information, information that is not publicly available, information if revealed could have serious consequences for our clients. We have an ethical duty towards our clients  that we need to honour and respect at all times. With regard to candidates we need to remember that we have a responsibility towards their well-being – and this means representing a client ethically. I, and I am sure that it has happened to others in my industry, have ended up in terrible situations where a client turns out to be dishonest and I have represented that client and convinced candidates to join them. It is an awful situation. All I can say is that it happens, and that when you discover dishonesty, misconduct or gross incompetency in a client, you have to walk away immediately and not use your talents and skills one second longer to promote them.
So, I have laid out what I see to be the five main characteristics of being a great executive search professional: business understanding; investigative research; meaningful evaluation of a candidate; being a powerful client advocate; a strong sense of ethics. I have learnt these over the course of a quarter of a century and feel passionately about these qualities because I am privileged to have clients that I care about deeply and am proud to serve. My wish and hope is that others will have the good fortune to feel the way I do.