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Staffing Advisors Blog

How to Justify Paying Executive Search Firm Fees

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 27, 2020

During an economic downturn, it’s wise to make a strong business case for major expenditures. And if you are considering paying a fee to an executive search firm, it’s not hard to envision your CFO looking into their video camera incredulously and asking, “In the middle of a pandemic, with the national unemployment rate at 20 or 30%, why do we need a search firm?” Your CFO might have a point. Why not just post an ad somewhere, let candidates line up around the block (6 feet apart), and then hire the best person who applied? The truth is, for some jobs, that might work out just fine. Particularly if great people with the skills you need have been laid off in large numbers.

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How Modern Recruiters Find Candidates

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 27, 2020

Most people think recruiters spend their days calling their contacts to ask for candidate referrals (because that’s one of the most visible activities of a modern recruiter). Yes, recruiters do often ask, “Who do you know who might want this job?” But relying on this question invariably excludes some very well-qualified candidates. By itself, the recruiting approach leads to very narrow thinking and tiny little homogenous candidate pools, because we all tend to know people who are demographically similar to us. I consider this to be recruiting malpractice.

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Avoiding the Pitfalls in Virtual Interviewing

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 12, 2020

Chris Rock said, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, "Hell is other people." Both men point to the same truth. Most of us are so afraid of being judged negatively by others that we adjust ourselves when someone else is present.

Getting past the other party's facade has always been a challenge for interviewers, but video interviews scramble the hiring decision in new ways, introducing even more factors unrelated to predicting job performance.

Both parties have long sought a competitive advantage in interviews. People obsess over what they wear, and choose their words carefully in answering questions and crafting resumes and job descriptions. Video interviews are just the latest front in the perpetual arms race between employers and candidates. And executive search consultants like me are the arms dealers to both sides. Recruiters have an obligation to advise both parties, creating the right environment and expectations for a productive conversation. Every candidate wants to interview well, and every employer wants to cut through that carefully curated facade to see the "real person" behind the interview answers.

So what determines who will gain the advantage in this video arms race? Will it be better interview preparation on the part of the candidates, or will it be employers adapting their hiring practices to this new medium?

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The Era of the Modern Executive Search Firm Has Begun

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 11, 2020

Many of our clients are associations and nonprofits—organizations that exist to help other people thrive. And while they're all busy reinventing how they deliver their vital services, we’ve been equally busy adapting our services to support their new needs. Because the minute all those office doors slammed shut, the era of the modern executive search firm was ushered in. The old ways just won't rise to this occasion.

This is not how the future normally arrives. I've long appreciated William Gibson's 2003 observation, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." But in this case, the future was evenly distributed immediately upon arrival. And now every executive search firm is called upon to reconsider who we serve, what services we offer, and how we deliver those services.

So what services should a modern executive search firm offer? I'll know for sure in a couple of years, but for now, I'll share what we've done in the past two months. Clearly this is a work in progress for internal recruiting teams as well as third party search consultants: 

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Is This the End of In-Person Interviews with Executive Search Firms?

Posted by Bob Corlett on April 14, 2020

In-person interviews with executive search consultants are suddenly out of step with the times, but they have been out of step with the research for far longer. Years of research illustrates why this type of interviewing is far more likely to introduce bias than to predict success on the job. (See The Case for Evidence-Based InterviewingTM.)

The public health earthquake left behind a digital divide between people who can do their work remotely and others who cannot. We’re seeing massive unemployment rates for people who need to be somewhere specific to work, and a far smaller employment impact on people who can work from home. It’s likely to be a year or more until we can all go to our offices without periodic disruptions. Consequently, a digital divide is slicing through employers in the workplace--if you can achieve your mission with a predominantly remote workforce, you are far better positioned than a restaurant or retailer who cannot. But it's not always a binary choice. What about business models that blend location-dependent work with virtual work?

Executive search firms are only one example, but a familiar one to both candidates and the client organizations who engage them. The finding of candidates (sourcing and recruiting) has been almost effortlessly virtual for decades. But the interviewing process has remained stubbornly location-dependent for most search firms. Until a month ago, most executive search firms proudly continued a clubby tradition of interviewing candidates face-to-face in posh, expensive offices. This (flawed) approach has deep roots in the industry. And despite mountains of emerging research that the practice is counterproductive, the clients of search firms mostly accepted it as an integral part of the service. (Hint: it's not.) And while employers accepted it, I suspect very few candidates will mourn the end of face-to-face interviewing with search firms. They are notoriously difficult to schedule, rarely enlightening, and can occasionally lapse into the truly superficial.

Of course, face-to-face interviewing during a pandemic is next to impossible to deliver. So search firms who relied on it must reexamine that part of their service offering. Ideally, this change would entail moving away from relying on the personal opinion of the search consultant, and migrating to a more evidence-based approach to interviewing. To place their search firms on a stronger virtual foundation, the value of an in-person interview must be delivered in other ways, and there are far more effective approaches. Organizations with deeper expertise in remote work will simply be more effective now. But that sort of business model innovation is incredibly difficult work in the best of times.

As someone who has spent the better part of two decades reinventing the business model for executive search, I do not envy those who are just beginning the journey. It's difficult to challenge the conventional wisdom in any field of endeavor. It is supremely difficult to rethink the entire basis for how you create value for your clients, and then go on to hire the people, build the process, and implement the technology to support it.

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Washington DC Association/Nonprofit Job Market Update (Early April 2020)

Posted by Bob Corlett on April 7, 2020

This is the second of our periodic updates on what we're observing in the local Washington DC association and nonprofit job market. (We handle more senior staff searches than most executive search firms, so after completing 800 searches we know what the job market numbers should look like.) 

Current Situation with Employers

We are not seeing layoffs from any of our clients, but we are seeing a few hiring freezes on non-essential positions. This appears to be a simple way to hold the line on budgets until things stabilize. It's mostly a case of stopping to reevaluate. I expect many of those freezes will thaw when offices reopen, events can be held, and budgets can be adjusted for lost revenue during the shutdown.

For essential positions, with very few exceptions, our searches have moved forward to offer and acceptance. This has been true even when a hiring freeze was announced. And from what I am hearing, even those few exceptions will only be delayed until early June.

At the senior staff levels, the local DC job market is just as competitive as it was two months ago. It's kind of amazingly normal actually, especially by comparison with so many sectors in the economy where layoffs are the norm. In our sector, we are still seeing candidates considering multiple job offers. We're not seeing desperation from most candidates, nor any willingness to accept lower salaries. (We have more information on compensation trends below.) 

Our recruiting timelines are the same as before (just as fast as always), but we are finding that interview scheduling with our clients is becoming easier because hiring executives are traveling less. We are seeing some "creativity" with scheduling video interviews on nights and weekends. (Really, who among us can even tell what day of the week it is anymore?) 

The bottom line is this: if you have a key opening and need somebody to start work when you reopen your office, get started now. Jump in, the water is ... kinda normal.

Current Situation with Job Seekers

In our job postings and direct recruiting efforts, we are still not seeing a meaningful change in the numbers of people applying, the caliber of people responding, or the salary expectations of people applying. In our sector of the economy, it is not getting any easier to hire great people nor is it getting any harder. And we're not seeing any shift in compensation trends (except that most people are probably not expecting a bonus for their 2020 work).

The biggest change in candidate behavior we are seeing occurs at the time of job offer. Candidates have been perfectly willing to accept video first, second and third interviews, video panel interviews, etc.. What happens now is that candidates want one final conversation to reassure themselves before moving into the offer phase. They want a real heart to heart about the employer's expectations for remote work, they need to understand what drives the financial health of the organization, and be assured of the importance of the job. Fundamentally this boils down to, "Will I have the support I need to be successful in a remote environment with this organization? And if I am successful, can I be assured that my new employer will not make me, 'The last one in and first one to go' when times get tough?" 

Employers need to think carefully how to handle these valid concerns, signaling their capability and flexibility in supporting remote work, and confidence in their plans for moving forward in this chaotic environment. 

Our Status at Staffing Advisors: 

Because we have always been a fully remote company, we've had no interruptions in our operations and are continuing to interview candidates at a brisk clip. Our clients are becoming increasingly familiar with virtual interviews and we're continually developing new resources to support them as issues arise. That's why we recently published guidance about how to avoid the pitfalls of video interviews

Sharing the Best Advice We’ve Heard From Others:

In our monthly newsletter we share the most useful research and perspective from a variety of sources, but our monthly newsletter seems waaaay too slow in these times of constant change. So I have included a few links to the most useful content I've seen in the last couple of weeks: 

If you are a hiring manager, and you don't want to wait 2 weeks for our next labor market update, or a wait a month for our next newsletter, just follow me on Twitter (or you could kick it old school and pick up the phone and call me.)

If you want to see the latest news and trends on who is hiring, and other advice for job seekers, you can also follow Staffing Advisors on Twitter.

 

 

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Washington DC Association/Nonprofit Job Market Update (Late March 2020)

Posted by Bob Corlett on March 25, 2020

Because of the disruptions in the economy, I plan to periodically share updates on what we are seeing in the local job market. I am not claiming to speak for the whole job market, just for the senior staff level of the association and nonprofit sector in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. We conduct more searches in that sector than most search firms, and from our years of experience, we know what the numbers normally look like.

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The Increasing Cost of Hiring On Your Own

Posted by Bob Corlett on September 20, 2019

In metropolitan areas like Washington DC, it's become remarkably difficult to hire highly skilled employees and senior staff members. Trying to hire on your own has become more expensive than paying someone a fee to help you recruit. 

Here's why:

The news headlines might blare about future economic slowdowns or potential future recessions, but right now we have full employment (are you seeing any stories about layoffs from well-managed firms? No.) Quite the opposite, some organizations are hiring like mad.

So with low unemployment and fewer candidates actively looking for work, more employers are vying for the attention of fewer available and interested candidates. Consequently a few things happen in your recruiting process. Your job advertising will yield lots of candidates who are not remotely qualified (this is true in any economy) but far fewer candidates who are qualified. Next, when you try to schedule those few good people for interviews, you'll quickly discover that some of the best candidates will withdraw before the first interview because they already accepted a job offer from another employer. Or perhaps candidates accept a first interview with you but then decline a second interview.

To add insult to injury, the job advertising market itself is increasingly complex and fragmented because of all the competition between Google for Jobs, Indeed, Linkedin, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder and others. When you have a poor response to your job advertising, it's difficult to know whether you used the wrong job title, wrote an unappealing job description, posted your job in the wrong place, or maybe your job is just not as attractive to candidates compared to their other career options. All you see is who responded to your ad. You can never see who you didn't reach.  

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How Employer Reputation Affects Senior Executive Careers (and Why Bad Glassdoor Reviews Matter)

Posted by Bob Corlett on October 29, 2017

How does your employer's reputation affect your career? Executive recruiters know quite a bit more about that question than you might expect. 

We're in the room when hiring managers decide who to interview, so we know how outsiders perceive the people who work for your organization. It's common for hiring managers to attribute the company’s reputation to everyone who works there. We also conduct the social media background checks as part of our due diligence, so we know when your (formerly private) management matters become all-too-public.

Conversely, for you hiring managers reading, we know precisely how responsive candidates are to your job opportunities. We see first-hand how job seekers are more eager to respond to job opportunities from highly reputable organizations, and how they shy away from organizations with bad reviews on employer review sites. 

As hiring process experts, it's our job to know exactly how your Glassdoor score affects your abilty to recruit, and how your employer's current reputation will affect your own ability to land your next job. 

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The Executive Search and Hiring Process

Posted by Bob Corlett on October 7, 2017

As it turns out, creating the perfect hiring process is fairly difficult. Who knew? Since 2007, we've been on a quest to bring you the most useful tools for every kind of hiring situation, and for every stage of the hiring process (including virtual interviews).

In other posts, we've examined the evolution of the executive search industry, and what services a modern search firm should offer. 

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