The actual textbook definition of “profession” is “a field of endeavour which has barriers to entry”. Executive search has no barriers to entry. There are no educational requirements, articling experience or other credentials needed to practice it. Yet, in all other respects, it is not only a profession, but perhaps the highest form of profession, practiced at the very highest level of client organizations and often with a tremendous amount at stake. It is further characterized by a high degree of discretion, the need to intermediate on an ongoing basis between client and candidates and a significant transactional component with a high amount of complexity, both financial and psychological, in getting the deal done.
At the root of the executive search profession lies the requirement to deeply assess senior level individuals who are not seeking the position against a wide range of predetermined competencies through advanced structured behavioural interviewing techniques. Other key ingredients to allow for a successful executive search assignment are the ability to find and attract potential candidates through sophisticated research techniques and a custom tailored personalized approach and the capability of procuring detailed references against the specification that are germane to making a final determination.
The barometer of success in executive search is not landing an assignment or even filling the position, but instead lies in being able to determine, two to three years after hire, that the successful candidate is still in place and has had a significant impact on the performance of the organization.
Although there are many dimensions to the makeup of a successful executive search consultant, the key one is the ability to develop meaningful lasting relationships with senior executives. This requires a certain trust and openness by both parties, such that the other individual believes that the interaction he or she has had with you is more meaningful and productive than the ones he or she has had with other professionals in this field. There is a high degree of intimacy required in the interactions typical to this profession, so this particular skill outweighs in importance all the others put together.
The two “must haves” to be permitted to practice senior level executive search, in addition to the obvious one of expertise, are independence and objectivity. The consultant must be completely independent of the client organization and have no vested interest in the outcome, whether it be in the form of an internal or external candidate, and, if the latter, which candidate is selected.
This independence enables the consultant to be truly objective in making recommendations. To start with, the consultant must never ask for an assignment and instead should be sought out by the client. Selling techniques used to generate an executive search assignment make the consultant beholden to the client for favouring him or her and result in a parasitical approach where the consultant will agree to whatever the client says.
A good client of an executive search consultant does not seek blind agreement to his or her views but instead wants a consultant with a high degree of expertise, independence and objectivity who will challenge the client every step of the way – rescoping the client’s requirement at the outset into something that is compatible with the reality of the marketplace, questioning the client’s views on candidates to ensure that the right determinations are being made and working extremely closely with the client at the all important negotiation phase to ensure that he or she does not lose faith and maintains the commitment so vital to a successful conclusion.