Lessons Learned from 20 Years in Executive Search

You can’t be in the executive recruiting business as long as I have and not glean a few pieces of information that others might find at least somewhat helpful. So, besides the fact that many of the dinosaurs in my business didn’t even start to use email until well into the 2000s, here are a few observations on 20 years in executive search.

 

  1. Your client doesn’t want you to tell them what they want to hear; they want you to tell them what they need to hear. There are way too many “yes-men” and “yes-women” in our business.  This is because some are scared of losing business, some don’t know enough to advise their clients when they are moving down the wrong path, and some simply don’t care.
  2. When a white guy hires a white guy to fill a job, he will usually fill it with another white guy. Speaking as a white guy, I believe that our industry will not improve our ability to bring our clients diverse candidates until we become more diverse ourselves.
  3. Candidates rarely think an interview goes badly. I don’t know if it’s the candidates’ lack of self-awareness or interviewers being polite, but the large majority of candidates believe their interviews went great, regardless of how they really went, and are shocked when they find they’re not moving forward in a search.
  4. Most companies are horrible at hiring great talent. I wrote this blog almost four years ago and very little has changed since then.  Companies don’t move fast enough and don’t recruit hard enough when it comes to hiring superstars.
  5. Search firms, by and large, really suck at customer service. Our industry should feel lucky that the business press doesn’t include us in their customer service rankings, or we would give the airlines and telecoms a run for their money.  To my colleagues in search: could you please just start returning a few phone calls and emails?
  6. I haven’t aged a day in 20 years. Plus, I’m smarter and better looking.
  7. Millennials want most of the same things that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers wanted at the same point in their careers. Granted, the oldest millennials are just now hitting our radar screen in a meaningful way. They want good jobs, development, meaning in their lives, and balance. I wanted the same things 20 years ago too, so did my mom and dad 20 years before that (maybe that’s not a big enough sample size).
  8. You can “find” the same people we can. We all lead public lives – our names are out there for everyone to find.  For the most part, you can come up with the same list of candidates for a job that your search firm can.  So, they better be great at engaging and assessing the talent pool, or you’re not maximizing the value of your relationship with your search partner.
  9. Global experience has gone from being a “career-differentiator” to being a prerequisite.  There are very few large companies that don’t have global presence at this point.  If you don’t have experience managing a business outside of the US, it’s going to stunt your career growth.
  10. There is a succession Armageddon coming, and none of us are ready for it. All major US stock indexes post record closes this month.  For the most part, those who delayed their retirements because of the Great Recession have bounced back and can now retire at the same time as the next generation.  Unfortunately, we may not have enough talent around to replace those leaving the workforce in the next five to seven years as a result.  Start getting your hipots ready!

 

I know what you’re thinking: “He learned only one thing every two years.”  Well, maybe this is the first in a series posts! (it’s not).  When I write the Lessons Learned from 40 Years in Executive Search, which will be written by eye movement on my ocular computer, I will try to do better.

John Touey
John is a Principal and member of the SSG management team. He has over 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources and management consulting services to a broad range of organizations and industries including healthcare, financial services, utilities, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. You can follow John Touey at @JohnTouey on Twitter.

One Response to 'Lessons Learned from 20 Years in Executive Search'

  1. Surya ram says:

    Excellent information provided in this blog about the lessons which an expert have learned in 20 years. This will be really helpful for the person to get through their career

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