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Search and selection

Using an executive search firm helps find the top performers in your sector to recruit, says Mathew Dixon, director of Hudson Walker International

O ne of the biggest challenges faced by chief executives and HR directors today is recruiting, developing and retaining a highly skilled and motivated workforce.
The recession has focused business leaders to consider recruiting only the very best talent within their market place. Executive search firms are increasingly being utilised for their specialist knowledge of the best performers in their field and also where to find the top tier of up-and-coming talent. Competition has dramatically increased for the revered executives, and the successful partnership between a company and an executive search consultancy is crucial in achieving hiring objectives.

The majority of assignments undertaken by executive search firms are filled with the highest calibre of candidate. However, not all retained searches end in such a satisfactory placement. This harsh reality means a client may have paid several thousand pounds as a retainer and a vacant position after many months of searching. Equally, the recruiter will have devoted hundreds of man-hours and lost money and reputation on the search.

Achieving successful partnerships

Talking to HR executives and utilising Hudson Walker International’s own executive search experiences over thousands of assignments, a number of key criteria for forming the best possible working partnership became apparent. Of paramount importance was to employ a specialist recruiter, with the depth of knowledge of the particular industry and/or the job function and measurable experience of the kind of search being conducted. Simply questioning on previous assignments in this sector as well as asking for examples of successful (and unsuccessful) placements will give an insight in the calibre of work previously completed. Asking how a consultant defines a successful outcome and how their placements perform within their role will show how they remain in touch and help candidates settle into new roles on both a short and long-term basis.


Others questions are less obvious: Who will actually do the work — including the interviewing and referencing? (They will in essence be acting as an ambassador for the hiring business). How many searches are currently being handled and at what stage are they? Will sufficient resources be devoted to this search to achieve agreed time frames? An HR executive’s expectations must be clearly defined.

As a recruiter, it is necessary to meet and constantly interact with the key line managers involved in the hiring decisions. When talking to a potential candidate, the ability to discuss personalities, company culture and nuances of the role helps creates curiosity, excitement and sways them into wanting to find out more. This may mean multiple meetings between line manager and recruiter to ensure the best possible brand representation is given.

A good search consultant will furnish an HR executive with a highly detailed snapshot of the candidate market, as well as potential trends. They will be honest about balancing the expectations of both clients and candidates. The importance of salary and traditional employer benefits may vary depending on the reputation of the hiring company - the search consultant must be confident the salary package on offer will attract the calibre of candidate the client seeks and let them know if they feel it is insufficient. With the influx of Generation Y candidates now old enough to assume influential positions of authority, HR executives must think of more innovate and appropriate ways of attracting and rewarding star performers. Social compliance and environmental policies are now higher placed on candidate agendas than ever before and enable potential employees to quickly buy into the culture of a company.

First impressions

The best talent are usually those happiest in their current environment. Convincing them to join a new company, especially with fears of job security from the recession, is very difficult. The first impression both a recruiter and client make will play a massive part in them deciding whether they are interested in the opportunity. Basics such as punctuality, warmth/courtesy and honest answering of even uncomfortable questions cannot be overlooked in their importance. It is immensely frustrating for search consultants and HR executives to persuade an industry star to meet a company, only for the interview to be conducted as if they are any other candidate who has applied for a job. Be inspirational, modern and show the organisation off to its very best.

A major hire can be a PR and financial triumph and can even add 1%-2% to the share price of a public company. Working with the correct search consultants, who have been given the opportunity to work as an equal partner towards a common goal with HR, dramatically increase the chances of hiring the right executive. The effect that a high-profile placement cannot be underestimated both internally and externally. It can help solve the challenge of recruiting, developing and retaining a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

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