Executive Search Snapshot: personal perspectives

Each and every working day of every year, 35,000 different CEOs and C-Suite executives around the world will be contacted confidentially for ‘an exciting opportunity’.

There is a lot of hot air spoken and written about executive search, or its more colloquial description ‘headhunting,’ by those who have to deal with the industry and those who are part of it. Like it or not, head-hunters have become a vital resource for organisations all over the world.

This initially US-centric profession is now an US$18 billion global industry and is set to grow even further. This growth will be driven by the sustained expansion of the Asian economies, the emergence of African talent, and ironically perhaps, the greying of Western economies where competition for scarce talent will become ever more aggressive.

So, as a high-performing executive in a world increasingly dominated by head-hunters, how do you make sure your personal information is secure?

Despite the great leap forward that has been made with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), there is evidence that many firms and their clients still flout this key piece of European legislation which is being adopted and adapted in many non-European jurisdictions.

My advice: make sure any firm approaching you has strict GDPR protocols and ask for a copy before sharing your curriculum vitae. As with all data, if your CV gets into the wrong hands, it can work against you and your reputation.

Some organizations know how to manage headhunting firms well, but most don’t and as a consequence lose out on great candidates, market data and insights. All too often this happens because they have delegated the management of a search to an internal resource with neither the understanding nor the strategic vision of what is important for their organisation. Executive search achieves better results when led by the senior manager to whom the role will report.

As a client, which firm should you choose? A big brand, or a boutique?

There is also the challenge of choosing the right firm, and the right team within that firm, to work with. I have led teams and practices within the largest executive search firm in the world and have also run my own boutique firm. Brand equity in search is divided between the company and the search consultant. A large firm may suggest a high level of confidence, but ultimately you need your search consultant to understand your business, understand you as a client and know the sector well enough to assess an evolving talent pool. With or without a big brand name behind them, this is what you need. 

Success criteria for an executive search consultant

For me, executive search is about personal branding, building a search career through exceptional client service and candidate engagement, developing areas of specialisation, and what remains one of my favourite aspects of head-hunting, being an excellent interviewer of talented leaders.

As an executive search consultant every engagement is an opportunity to learn, starting with client management. I learned many lessons I wished I had known at the very beginning, from personal experience and from observing others. And depending on your favourite sources, there are lessons from all areas of life; for me, from Cosimo di Medici, Jean-Paul Sartre and the fictional Don Draper, the flawed hero of TV series Mad Men.

And finally, just one thing that is impressive about the industry?

I am proud to say that the executive search industry is one of the most gender diverse industries in the world with equal opportunities and equal compensation for women and men. I should also say that some of the greatest head-hunters I have ever worked with have been women, and I am fortunate to have had some of these remarkable women as mentors in the early part of my career.

Contact Dr. Mitchell for a conversation.