Monogamy, Polygamy or Just Engaged?

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The search for talent is complex and requires the skill of a mature professional who understands both business and the people who have the critical ability to make businesses successful. A successful search process contains a massive amount of knowledge transfer, communication, a feedback loop and a keen sense of urgency. It requires trust, commitment and focus. Gosh, it sounds a bit like marriage—and many of us know how hard that it.

So if a successful executive search requires monogamy, is contingent search really a sad example of business polygamy? Ouch…this won’t be popular, but I think so.

I know that contingent search is a norm for much of corporate America; and I know that there is a certain satisfaction to having people working on your behalf "for free," but who really benefits? If a "client" is working with multiple search firms, it stands to reason that the search firms are working with a much larger multiplier of clients companies. Each week that search firm makes a conscious decision where to focus its efforts.

That decision is generally made on the following criteria:

  1. Attractiveness of Position—Do your requirements make sense? Is the compensation appropriate? Do you have a good reputation in the industry? Can people be successful in your environment?
  2. Communication—Do you communicate on a timely basis and provide meaningful information? Do you provide enough information about the position and your company? Do you provide timely and enlightening feedback about candidates? Do you provide information about changes to the requirements and to the search timeline?
  3. Urgency—Do you have a sense of urgency? Does it take too long for people to get through your process or are you looking for that elusive "perfect" candidate? And have you been looking for a very long time? Top talent has a brief shelf-life—can your company and process step-up?

What happens if you don’t hit the mark on one of the criteria...or two of them…or maybe all three? Well, your search doesn’t get the commitment and focus that it so sorely needs…and as far as "trust" —well, probably not. At some point the entire process becomes counter productive for all three parties. Never forget that the candidate is the offspring of this relationship—a son or daughter who can take your employer brand into a dark place without ever actually becoming an employee.

So, recommendations? Take a candid look at your performance on the criteria from the search firm’s perspective—and the candidate’s. I can assure you that the two won’t vary by any great degree. Find a search firm that values a meaningful relationship and that has the experience and ability to perform well for your company. Look closely at the individual actually performing your search and assess your trust and confidence in that person. Make an informed commitment, and if you can’t get "married" right now…consider "engaging" your partner. The limited "skin-in-the-game" will enrich your search experience and the candidates that result from it.