Partnering with an executive search firm to fill C-suite roles at your company can offer many benefits, not least of which is saving your HR department from a huge amount of extra work. But just because you’ve outsourced much of the heavy lifting to another firm doesn’t mean you should simply sit back and wait for the perfect candidate to be delivered to your door. On the contrary, executive search firms do their best work when the leaders who hire them play an active role in the process, and treat the firm like a true partner rather than just another vendor.
Here are some things you can do to build a great partnership with your executive search firm and help them do the best possible job for you.
Discuss expectations early on
Open and honest communication about what you expect from the search process is essential, both for you and for the executive firm you’re working with. Having clear conversations upfront, ideally before signing any contracts, will help you to understand what’s involved in the search, and will help your firm determine whether or not they’ll be able to deliver what you’re looking for. Discuss issues including the market, the role, the compensation, and any other expectations you have for the search itself and for prospective candidates. The more open you can be at this stage, the better your chances of finding the right candidates.
Provide a wealth of detail
Companies are often surprised by just how much information executive search firms need in order to do their job properly. Remember, they’re not looking for just any candidates, but top-level leaders who are sure to ask tough questions about the role being offered, the company in general, its workplace culture, and its future plans. In order to attract the right candidates and be prepared for those kinds of questions, your executive search firm will need highly detailed information, so be prepared to get right into the weeds. You’ll need to articulate the business solution you’re looking for, describe the type of person you want, and prepare organized, unified information about your company.
Keep communication flowing
Formal, regular check-ins are an important part of your company’s relationship with your executive search firm, but don’t think that’s where your communication ends. Many search firms stress the importance of communicating about events as they unfold: often, this means having informal daily chats to share intelligence right away, rather than waiting for a scheduled meeting, or picking up the phone immediately after meeting a candidate to share your impressions. Yes, constant feedback will take some effort to manage, but it’s a vital part of a successful search.
Keep an open mind
It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a candidate — and to discuss those expectations with your search firm, as mentioned earlier — but you also want to be sure that your vision isn’t so specific that it becomes restrictive. Remember that your executive search firm knows the talent market inside out and can offer wisdom gained through hundreds or even thousands of past placements. This means that, even though they don’t know your company as well as you do, they can suggest different avenues to solve your search that you might not have considered before, and it’s worth considering those suggestions with an open mind.
Listen to (and give) feedback
In addition to an open mind, a willingness to listen to feedback is an important part of a successful search. Some of this feedback may come from the executive search firm itself, but some of it may come from the candidates the firm is talking to. Trust that when your search firm passes along critiques from candidates, they’re doing it so that the search process can be improved, and be ready to make necessary adjustments. And don’t forget that in your company/search firm partnership, feedback isn’t a one-way street: if you can provide your search firm with constructive feedback about the candidates you’re seeing, it will help improve the search and interview process, enhance candidates’ perceptions of your company, and reframe how you evaluate prospective hires.
Understand the timelines
When it comes to executive searches, time is often of the essence. Indeed, this is one big reason why many companies choose to work with executive search firms: because of their ability to move quickly. However, it’s important to understand that even well-organized searches can take time, particularly in today’s tight talent market where top leaders often have their pick of opportunities and are deeply thoughtful about moving. In other words, you need to be prepared for the fact that the search might take longer than you’d like. Yes, in some cases you’ll find the right person after meeting just a few candidates, but in other cases you might need to meet dozens of candidates over many months. But even if it takes longer, it’s worth the wait to find the right candidate rather than the right now candidate, especially given the well-documented high costs associated with “mis-hires”.