Bring executive search in-house but don’t scrimp on quality

As employers seek hard-to-find talent and want greater control of their brand, many are looking to build executive search capability in-house, rather than hire a headhunter, says Tim Connolly. 

The term “executive search” is well known, but is still seen by many as a dark art. It conjures up pictures of black books with lists of potential CEOs accessible only by those in the know.

Executive search is now used not only for very senior roles, but also for hard-to-find skill sets in hyper niche sectors.

And while many organisations have already been quick to see the value of setting up in-house resourcing teams for high volume recruitment to save money on agency fees, they are now realising the value of hiring internal subject matter experts to acquire talent at a more strategic level.

This has enabled organisations to not only reduce the cost of hire, but also deliver a consistent message to market.

Your brand as an employer is now integral to your ability to hire the most effective talent, and the message you send out when recruiting senior individuals is a significant part of that branding and so you must have complete control over it. The archaic view that search is a dark art is changing, and a huge floodlight is now being positioned on it.

Strategic talent acquisition

As a consultancy firm that places executive search talent into corporate organisations, ALC has been witnessing a real shift. Companies are moving away from hiring straightforward recruiters and instead want people who can deliver strategic talent acquisition – not just bums on seats.

Organisations realise that talent acquisition is actually far more complex, and that subject matter experts who can understand goals, drivers and leavers within an organisation, and then define a suitable talent acquisition strategy to achieve those goals, are far more effective.

As human capital is usually by far the most capital intensive and largest determinate of an organisation’s success, it seems appropriate that greater importance is placed upon the process.

Smart organisations are focusing their efforts on seeking out niche talent who will give their organisation competitive advantage rather than the more traditional reactive recruitment approach of simply taking orders and backfilling open vacancies.

We find that such organisations are really keen on building the capability to handle executive search from the inside, evidenced by the number of mandates we now receive outside of the traditional executive search consultancy arena.

Cost is obviously one key driver. While internal executive search specialists will not be a cheap option, some organisations see the maths as a no-brainer.

If you take a typical requirement for a C-suite professional where the organisation would normally use a headhunter, you could easily be looking at a fee in excess of £70,000 (based on an average 30% fee of a £250,000 salary).

A couple of those a year could more than pay for the base salary of an in-house executive search professional.

Facing outward

And while these in-house professionals are by their very nature “internal”, their experience means they are anything but inward looking.

They will constantly be looking outside in order to benchmark both internal and external talent against the market (something else that is often a paid-for service from executive search firms) and developing talent pipelines and pools to future-proof the organisation.

In effect, they build up their own black book from which to source executive and niche talent.
So, what are the other drivers that are fuelling this trend? For one thing, leadership teams are demanding disruption from their talent acquisition teams.

They don’t just want cost savings – they want speed, efficiency and results and are demanding better technology, process and innovation to deliver these outcomes.

Cut through the noise

The problem is that there are so many shiny new things on the market that generalist talent acquisition teams often don’t really know what works best and some organisations now feel that tasks really requiring a researcher with niche experience can now be done by less experienced and lower cost people.

The volume of candidates reached may well increase with such an approach – but the quality will invariably drop.

Building an effective in-house executive search function is about cutting through the noise. Traditional non-strategic talent acquisition teams have had the benefit of lots of new routes to market and many more sources of candidates afforded by technology.

However, that also means, arguably, that potential talent is feeling far more “processed” and the whole candidate experience piece can consequently be sadly lacking.

C-suite talent and those with hard-to-find skills do not want to be processed or receive multiple marketing messages.

They want to be nurtured, cosseted and made to feel special, as they are and should be, considering they will be integral to the success of the business. A good executive search function can do just that – and facilitate relationships – not just records on a database.

Wow factor

Executive search approaches to target talent should result in a “Wow” or at the very least as “Hmm, that could be interesting”.

In our experience, that very rarely happens and the non-strategic internal talent acquisition and resourcing teams can become tainted with the same brush as recruitment agencies.

Many organisations have grasped that bringing at least some of their capacity to source leadership talent in-house makes good business sense.

But if they scrimp on the quality of the individuals who will be undertaking this highly important work, the results could end up being very disappointing indeed.

Tim Connolly

About Tim Connolly

Tim Connolly is the founding Partner of ALC, a global human capital consultancy.
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