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Do You Want to Become an Executive Recruiter?

Disclosure is required: I have never worked as an executive recruiter. But I have been on both sides of the search dynamic: as someone being recruited for a position, and as someone working with a recruiter to fill positions in my former organization. So I have a direct and personal knowledge of how that particular quest-and-fulfillment works.

It’s not simple to hire the best possible person for an open position. It does not happen, in my experience, as often as it should. At its best the search process should result in perfect-fit vacancy filling, with both sides-employer, candidate-winning. I believe such failure (which I can’t quantify but have clearly seen from experience) is that neither party divulged enough of “what they really want.”

Again, none of this is easy. And the blame, if that’s the proper word, falls not to the employer or the candidate, but to the Search Executive. And that’s because, in my view, not enough extra-job information was gathered from the employer.

A job position description exists to be filled. It is written, often times, with precision and clarity. That, to me, is less the overall point than this-that the non-task components of the search were left out, which is to say that culture-congruence, while elusive and difficult to capture on paper, is crucial, vital to perfect-fit job filling. One might say that skills are skills. It the employer is looking for “A” set of abilities, then finding someone with that “A” set is not so difficult.

Existing professionals may argue with me here; after all, hundreds of calls need to be made, vetting put in place, reference checks followed up on. Granted, that takes time.

But maybe not so much time and care are given to helping the employer define the culture of the organization, at the macro level, and the diverse cultures that exist department to department. The overall perception of working at, say, Google may be (and this has been written about extensively) that it is non-traditional, that no dress code prevails, that time is given during the day for employees simply to be creative – just to wander in the lofty realm of creativity and think about the future. And yet, there are department heads at Google – and this was what I noticed in my reading-who are very tough – minded and goal oriented.

Sure, Google may exalt creativity. But managers across the company have to deliver results. The consequence is that culture at Google is variable and elusive. A company may say that “we hire bright people and then let them create.” Fine. But I suspect that’s easier to espouse than to pull off, department head by department head. Even for Google.

And this means that the executive recruiter must grasp and articulate fully the culture of the position at issue. He or she needs to understand the type of personality-regardless of pure ability – that will be most likely to thrive in the given environment. But even this is elusive, because organizations deceive themselves when it comes to their culture. They may wish it were one way or the other; they may believe it is one way or another. But the good search executive, the one ideally you want filling positions, is one who sees the trees for the forest, at first view, and the forest for the trees at the next view.

It is easy to make up numbers about these sort of issues. But I’d guess that, based on my experience, 60 percent to 70 percent of job hires do not work out because of culture incongruences.

It is finally up to the recruiter to discern and define work culture specifics to the greatest extent possible. It is up to the recruiter to match job requirements with verified skills. It is also up to the recruiter to explore work culture and candidate psyche-and to see through the espoused similarities and the subterranean differences.

Stephen Foster is the Principal of