Traditional retained executive search firms have had a rough time over the past five years.  Executive search is a cyclical business.  So, naturally, headhunters saw business recede as it normally does in a recession, but then, for some reason, it didn’t all come back when it always had rebounded.  The meat-and-potatoes VP level executive searches had simply vanished. Clearly, this time was different. Something collectively had snapped.

WSJ Internal Recruiting on the Rise

Since the down turn, a growing number of large employers have assembled corporate recruiting teams to conduct executive search in-house. Intellerati partners with a number of those in-house teams and so we’ve benefited from the seismic shift, a trend that has been reported by Joann Lublin in the Wall Street Journal and by Carol Hymowitz and Jeff Green in BloombergBusinessweek.  In a fit of rugged determinism, corporations are hiring former retained search consultants to head up teams of executive recruiters and sourcers, who conduct recruiting research.  They do it to save money and to deliver better results, leveraging keener insight into cultural fit and greater access to hiring executives and stakeholders. But by replicating retained search firms in-house, they run the risk of replicating that model’s shortcomings.

On average, 40% of retained executive searches fail to complete.  Imagine if your phone didn’t work 40% of the time or if your Internet was down nearly 10 hours a day: that would be bad.  To be fair, search firms are not always to blame for a retained search that ends without making a placement.  Sometimes openings go away. Sometimes an internal candidate is selected. Sometimes clients drag their feet so long the candidate is snapped up by another employer or the candidate simply gets cold feet.  But whatever the reason, clearly  something is terribly wrong when employers spend $100,000 or more when they engage a search firm, only to have nothing to show for it nearly half of the time.

Matching Force With Big Data

Whether conducted internally or externally, executive searches will continue to fail at too high a rate because the research is flawed. Consequently, a star candidate that could have been hired isn’t because that executive wasn’t identified, profiled, or recruited. Most missed candidates are easy enough to find. It’s just that too much information gets in the way.  In fact, while it may seem counter-intuitive, the more candidate information there is, the harder search becomes. That’s because widely accepted sourcing “best practices” to identify and recruit top talent are hopelessly outdated. The approach hyper-focuses on gathering information, but rarely pauses to determine what it all means.  It doesn’t go to the trouble of connecting the dots.  That’s like buying a book, but refusing to read it, all the while insisting that simply having the book made you smarter. It simply doesn’t work that way.


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