In the Hunt for Talent, Flexibility Now Reigns Supreme

HR leaders and talent acquisition professionals are seeking more buying choices and much more flexibility from their executive recruiting counterparts. Here’s some sage advice from an expert in the field.

Deconstruction has become a buzzword as of late, particularly if you are a foodie and watch the Food Network as faithfully as I do.

In the kitchen, the term means that cooks are essentially taking apart the traditional ingredients in a recipe and recombining them in a new way.

When you are deconstructing food, you’re changing expectations about that dish and serving up the elements separately— or in a different combination – thereby cooking up a unique twist on the original dish. There is a huge demand for this type of inventive thinking from chefs.

Being creative is something I enjoy about my job as well. To be a successful recruiting consultant, you need to be visionary in order to solve the particular challenges that each client may bring to the table. Borrowing a page (a cookbook page) from the kitchen, I’ve concluded that for executive search, it’s also time to get creative by considering how businesses could benefit from the breaking apart of the essential elements if we serve up executive search services to our clients à la carte!

Related: Why Recruiters Need to Resist the Temptation to Do It All

About four years ago I published a blog post on one of the areas my clients struggle with the most: whether to conduct an executive search themselves or work with an outside executive recruiter. At that time, I noted several important criteria in deciding whether to “build” as opposed to “buy.” But the notion that there are only these two, mutually exclusive, options for search is something that I still struggled with. Why do companies have to choose either/or? Is there a way an executive recruiter can be a valuable resource to businesses that choose to do their own search internally? Can’t executive recruiters deliver the traditional elements separately, depending on the client’s needs that we have traditionally combined together?

TalentRISE Releases Search Tool with Flexible Fee Options
As the executive search sector continues its shift beyond pure-play talent identification, recruiting firms have taken a more innovative approach to working with clients. For many, this has included everything from creating expanded service offerings to offering value-based pricing models.

Three Components

In essence, what I propose is that we deconstruct executive search into the following three components at various stages of recruitment:

1. Research, Prospecting, and Candidate Development – These are all of the activities that executive search firms have long perfected and have made considerable investments in over the years. Many firms have tens of thousands of dollars invested in databases to house data on professionals. The act of prospecting involves a researcher investigating and adding more names to the database of professionals who you don’t know but, based on their work history and current jobs, are a likely fit for a particular role. When the research phase concludes and you know who you want to target, you need the help of the candidate developer who will reach out to these professionals and entice them to listen to what you may offer them in terms of a new and exciting role.

Related: Second Chances – Rehiring Past Employees

Clients who have their own in-house executive recruiters can often use a leg up in research and other competitive intelligence capabilities from retained search firms that have perfected this process over the years. We have found that we can be immensely more productive by leveraging our research team to do this type of work in comparison to a client’s internal recruiter who spends his/her day on a wide variety of recruiting activities. Our researchers focus on nothing but research all day using the latest tools and technology to be as productive as possible. Internal recruiters tend to be jack-of-all-trades and are often spread thin over a wide variety of responsibilities.

2. Talent Attraction and Assessment – This refers to the comprehensive executive search offering most retained search firms currently employ when engaged to find senior-level executives and are aimed at a high caliber candidate. It’s focused almost exclusively on professionals not looking actively looking for opportunities; passive candidates who need to be headhunted. This task is performed by a senior level recruiter who has deep expertise in a particular industry and/or functional area and who relates well with the targeted executive based on previous professional experience prior to becoming an executive recruiter.

3. On-Boarding and Acculturation – An oftentimes overlooked and underappreciated element of executive search is the process of getting the new executive on-boarded and thereby productive in his or her new role. I like to think of it as a sound investment in the new hire and, as well, a way to mitigate risks. At my firm, we’ve been huge proponents of assigning new hires professional executive coaches as a part of every search we conduct and believe it’s critical enough that it should be offered as a menu item of its own.

Related: The Myth and Reality of Cultural Fit

Applying the principles of deconstruction to executive search and dividing up the three key elements as I’ve outlined above offers HR and talent acquisition leaders more buying choices and more flexibility. The analogy that comes to mind is choosing between two fine dining establishments. If the menu at one of them states no substitutions while the other allows you to decide which, and how many, of the variety of delicious dishes to sample, which one would you prefer? Similarly, the three components that I’ve outlined here offer businesses the option to select the external executive search assistance that makes most sense for their business at a particular time.

Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor

Contributed by J. James O’Malley, partner at TalentRISE. Jim has spent 25 years on both sides of the table, developing HR and talent solutions to align leadership, talent, and business needs. He joined TalentRISE in 2012 as a partner and can be reached at

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