The Assignment Price vs Quality – is there a correlation? There may or may not be a connection. However, if one Search firm offers the search for 20 000 €, another Firm for 30 000 € and the third Firm for 40 000 €, maybe you as a Client should stop and think why this is the case. Maybe this reflects a difference in the service level, maybe not, but in life in general, top-level experts tend to be more expensive than others. This may be the case here too. Of course, price matters, but don’t pay too much attention to just the price. Instead, pay attention to the expected result of the search.
Top quality, top service and top expertise usually cost more.
Before I go any deeper into the header subject, I would like to say some introductory words. In the last 20 years, the recruiting world has changed a lot, e.g.:
- The technology has changed, both enabling and forcing us to do things in new ways.
- New actors have entered the market, creating new ways for how to recruit people.
- AI is changing and reshaping the ways, methods, and practices of the recruiting industry even as I write these lines.
- The values, ways and habits of people have changed big time.
- The way Companies hire people has changed.
- All the above has had a profound impact on the Executive Search Industry.
However, all changes may not be in the best interest of the Executive Search Industry, neither the hiring Companies nor the Candidates entering an Executive Search Process.
The expression Executive Search has also become more diffuse, and not everyone has a clear understanding of what it stands for. “Executive” Search does not anymore always mean we are searching for Executive Management level persons. Today some Search Firms search for people also to entry level positions. Many Search Firms advertise a lot, also for low-level positions. The price-level varies a lot. Due to factors created by technology like the Internet and social media, e.g. LinkedIn, the threshold to enter the Search Industry is nowadays very low. It is easy for anyone to start an Executive Search Firm and call yourself a Head Hunter. Pretty much all you need is a computer and access to the Internet. Today there exist people in the Search Industry whose main goal is to “make a fast buck” and who only have one search strategy called LinkedIn.
For a Client using an Executive Search Firm, it is important to be able to recognise who’s who in the Executive Search Industry. To be able to choose the right Executive Search Firm for the right need, so to say. Not all Executive Search Firms are top-level, even if they say they are. Not all Search Firms are necessarily in the Client’s best interest.
So how do we know we get the quality and value for money that we want? Well, make certain you do a proper job when checking the Search Firms thoroughly before you make your choice. Below are some ideas for a checklist to begin with. You can add questions of your own. Start by getting the background. What is the Search Firm’s history?
The single most important asset a company has is its people.
They are the ones that make things happen and determine the service level. It should be easy to get information about the Search Consultants, sometimes also about the Researchers. A top-level Search Firm pays attention to giving information about their services and their people. So, check the personnel! Do they seem to have proper education, relevant and long enough experience?
However, focus on the capability, not just the experience. An experienced top-level executive who has become a Head Hunter may be an excellent choice despite perhaps still short of experience in Executive Search. However, preferably he/she should be working in a well-established Search Firm. A top-level Executive is certainly “business savvy”, but likely needs help in the search process, e.g. with the research.
When talking about the Search Assignment Position, also remember:
- The higher up in the organisation, the more responsibility the incumbent has.
- The more complex and diverse the job becomes.
- The more challenging and demanding the job becomes.
Also for the Search Consultant and the Researcher who are in charge of the Search Process. The more professional expertise is required of them.
- What is the Search Firm’s industry expertise like?
- What kind of searches does it specialise in? What level of searches?
- What are the Search Firm’s finances like? (Good firms tend to be successful and financially sound, making a profit is a good sign, bad finances are often a bad sign).
- What is the price level?
Then meet the Firm/the Search Consultant you think might have the potential to correspond to your needs.
- Have a ready-made questionnaire of your questions, don’t just play it by ear.
- Pay attention to what the Search Consultant and Researcher are asking.
- Are they asking the right questions? Are they prepared? Do they seem genuinely interested or just in a sales mode. Does it show that they have done their DD of you?
- Are they professional, are they convincing?
- What is their Research like? What is their Best Practise like? What is their Knowledge Management like? What is their Customer Promise? What are their ethical standards and values?
The Search Firm references:
Just checking Search Firm ranking lists is not enough. Neither is just meeting a Search Consultant or a Researcher who gave a fantastic and impressing performance. Many persons can give good impressions, but it is the results that count, not the impressions. Also try to check their results. Can they deliver? Any references they can give you?
Bottom line: There is no magic formula as to what kind of a background a good Search Consultant should have. In my mind, checking this out, does not differ that much from looking at, e.g. a Candidate CV in a very important interview/hiring situation. Just think, do you think a Search Consultant might have what it takes? When meeting the Search Consultant, also ask to meet his/her Researcher that would be on the search team. If the Executive Search Firm is a top-level Search Firm, it should also have top-level Researchers. Should this not be so, ask why? How does this affect the search? There exist top-level Search Consultants (who do not have a researcher) who are perfectly capable of doing their own research. However, if the same person is doing everything, it is good to remember that the resources of just one person are always limited.
The moral of this article is: High quality always costs more, regardless of what industry, product or service we are talking about. If a company is about to start a Search Process to find a high-profile Senior Management Executive, to a position of business-critical importance, I strongly advise turning to a high-end Executive Search Firm.
For most companies, it is about more than just a Search Assignment. It is about finding a Trusted Partner with whom you can form a long-term and mutually benefitting Business Partner relationship. The Client is looking for a Strategic Business Partner with outstanding business acumen. The Client expects the Search Consultant to have an in-depth knowledge of the Client Industry and the ability to consult and give advice on issues relating to the Client’s business. This will cost more, true, but top quality and top expertise cost more.
For me, the expression high-end is not defined just by size or a position on some ranking list. I define a high-end Search Firm as a Firm that excels in the level of quality it delivers. For me a high-end Search Firm delivers high-quality service, highly qualified Candidates, and where the highest ethical standards characterise the service given by the Firm. Often high-end Search Firms are big globally operating Firms, but in my mind there exist also small and locally operating Search Firms that give excellent and high-quality service.
Yes, I know that high-end Executive Search Companies sometimes fail too. It happens. Errare humanum est. We all make mistakes. Sometimes you give it your very best thought, your very best try – and yet you fail. Sometimes your very best was just not enough. But in a high-end Executive Search Company, this is rare. That said, let’s be honest. Not all Search Consultants and Researchers in the world are as top-level as we would like them to be – not even in high-end Search Firms. (This unfortunate statistical fact applies in any industry. There are always exceptions.) But when this is the case, it is mostly an “isolated” local problem in a single Search Firm Office. This is exactly why you should always do a proper Due Diligence of the Search Firm. If you do this, you will find this out in advance.
For those who are interested in learning in more detail about this subject, I advise reading my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search.