Some time ago, I was asked what comes into my mind from the header question – here is my answer. My experience is from senior executive management executive search, so I look at this from this perspective. However, I believe my reflections below apply to any level of recruiting.
What if the executive search process fails because the hiring company made a judgement error and chose the wrong person for the job? What if the candidate made a judgement error and chose the wrong job, wrong superior, or wrong colleagues – this can also happen – what then? What if the fundamental reason for the wrong recruitment was that the Executive Search Firm was not up to its task? Errare humanun est – to fail is human. In everything we do, we can fail, also in an executive search process. Despite only good intentions and best efforts, things can go sour even if no one intentionally did anything wrong or was careless. Every executive search process is of its kind. The starting point and the situations are always different, the parties taking part in the process are different, the process itself is different. Therefore, there does not exist a universal answer to the header question.
That said, the only acceptable outcome of an Executive Search process must be success (in any recruiting process, for that matter). Everyone taking part in the process must have this starting point, the hiring company, the executive search firm, and the candidate. In other words, at the end of the executive search process, the hiring company recruits the person they wanted, with the right skillset and from the candidate’s point of view, he/she precisely land the job he/she wanted.
When everyone has a successful recruiting as their goal, everyone taking part in the executive search process must be honest, open, transparent about their experience and skillset and all their doings and goals. No one can do better than this, so this is enough, but less is not acceptable. This way, we can avoid misunderstandings, minimise the risks, and ensure, at least in most situations, successful recruitment.
The Hiring Company
The hiring company must have a clear understanding of why they are recruiting, what kind of a person they are looking for, and to what kind of a job. The recruiting brief must be a well thought out, extensive, informative, and truthful company presentation. Including, e.g., the candidate profile, job description, goals and expectations, stakeholders, challenges, and problems areas. It must contain all relevant information needed. It may be that some information cannot yet be presented at the beginning of the recruiting process due to confidentiality reasons, but what is presented must be truthful. No piece of information should be distorted or sugar-coated. During my career in the Executive Search Industry, I met several business leaders who told me that they were disappointed that the job/conditions were not like they were told in the recruiting process. The presentation was sugar-coated. And needlessly so. Everyone understands that there are no perfect companies or people. The truth would not have scared any candidate and would not have changed their decision to land this job, but now their confidence in their employer was “damaged” already the first week on the job.
One of the key tasks of the hiring company is to choose the right executive search firm. A wrong executive search firm may lead to wrong recruitment. Not all search firms are good, and not all good search firms are a perfect choice if they do not have experience from this kind of job/industry we are now talking about. Also, the hiring company must ensure that the executive search consultant has a correct understanding of the needs and wants of their client.
No one should ever recruit an executive-level director without a proper reference check. The reference check must always be done in the best interest of both the hiring company and the candidate. For instance, if something comes up that implies the job might be a risk for the candidate, this issue must be put on the table and be discussed with both parties. Also, of course, should it be the other way, a potential risk for the company. The goal must always be a win-win situation. I have done hundreds of reference checks, and in my mind, this is the only right way.
The Executive Search Firm
All executive search firms sell their services the best way they know how. After all, they are business companies just like their clients, but one should never give groundless promises that cannot be fulfilled to get a search assignment. Everything said and done must be based on honesty. I too, have, during my career, declined a search assignment when I felt I did not have the expertise needed for the job. The hiring manager was not exactly glad by my answer but highly respected my honesty, even to the degree he came back later and became a client of mine. It is also important to point out that an executive search firm is no parrot that repeats what the client is saying. On the contrary, a good search firm brings value added to the search process by its professional expertise and knowledge of the business world and recruiting market. The search consultant must ensure that he/she has the same understanding as the hiring company of the search assignment and the candidate they are looking for. At the end of the process, the executive search firms must ensure that the reference checks are made. Many executive search firms require that reference checks be part of the search process when they accept the search assignment.
Every person is responsible for his/her doings, they say. And so it is, also in an executive search process. I believe that management group level executives know what executive search is about, what happens in the search process, whether it is worth joining, and what to pay attention to.
However, the “candidates” in an executive search process are not actively looking for a job. So, when a Headhunter calls them, this may have a strong “positive” impact on their self-esteem. On top of that, this may unexpectedly lead to the finals and even to becoming a winning candidate. Therefore, it is essential that they do things right, so you do not make a wrong decision by mistake.
The candidate should do thorough due diligence of the hiring company and the job (why not also of the executive search firm) and do their reference check of the hiring company, e.g., It is also vital that the candidate tells the truth about him/herself. Never pretend to be something you are not. If you are a good actor, this alone might lead to wrong recruitment when the hiring company thinks you are something that you are not.
If you are offered the job, you must have a crystal-clear understanding of what you are doing and what the job is about. If you have not even considered a job change before the Headhunter called, and if you have been fully satisfied with your present job, you should think twice if this is the right time for a job change. Otherwise, chances are that the only reasons for your job change are the Headhunters phone call and its impact on your ego and a little higher salary. This potentially leading to you landing a job not at all corresponding to your expectations.
When everyone acts in good faith and give it their best try, the result should be successful recruitment. Mostly this is the case, but unfortunately, not always. We all make mistakes, and sometimes someone makes a mistake in the recruiting process. No one has deliberately done anything wrong or been careless, but just the same, someone feels there has been wrong recruitment.
Even the best search consultant can sometimes fail. When this happens, it is very unpleasant for the executive search firm in question. In a good company, I am confident they thoroughly analyse what happened and do their best to prevent this from happening again. One should be open and transparent in every direction. If a mistake has been made, one should not try to hide it. Maintaining confidence in a situation like this requires full transparency. All said, it is the executive search firm that “suffers” the least. It might have to do a new search assignment for free, its reputation certainly takes some damage, but that’s about it.
If the hiring company is the party that feels it has made a mistake, an error judgement in this recruitment, it is a grave matter. A critical recruitment has failed. They must yet again change a member of the management team. This is a financial issue, a work atmosphere issue, a reputation issue, and a human issue. When the hiring company = the hiring manager acknowledges that this has been their error, a good company accepts its responsibility and tries to solve an unpleasant situation the best way possible. It e.g., tries to agree with the person in question on a severance package, supports his/her efforts to find a new job, acts as a reference. It is also here essential to analyse what happened to prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, there also exist companies that, despite this being explicitly their error, coldly ends the employee contract during the trial time, a tragedy for anyone. Some time ago you had a good job. Now you are unemployed.
However, it is always the employee who is most vulnerable when he/she suddenly finds out that he/she made a wrong decision. Genuinely thought this was the right job but has now found out that the chemistry between him/her and the management group/the superior does not work at all, even though everything felt so fine during the interviews. And fact is that nothing will become better by talking about it. So, what should one do? If you resign during trial time, you are immediately free to search for a new job publicly. But you are also immediately unemployed. If again you decide to stay, if only long enough to find a new job, chances are things become worse, and then, you may suddenly be fired. I want to think that I would resign at once and thus minimise my bad feelings, accept what happened and leave it behind me as fast as possible. However, this is pure theory. In reality, I might very well sit at my table counting my paychecks and evaluating how much they impact my finances. Every person must make his/her own decisions.
The examples above are about situations where everyone has acted in good faith, done their best. Unfortunately, there also exist people who do not feel distorting things, exaggerating things, not telling everything, sugar coating things, even lying about things in a recruiting process is a big deal. I think this is cheating yourself and other people, cheating with a big C, and reprehensible behaviour. Someone may have to pay a big prize for this.
The honest will inherit the earth, the saying says. Open-mindedness, honesty, transparency, and genuinely being yourself in a recruiting situation are, in my opinion, things that increase the likelihood of the right recruitment and concerns equally the hiring company, the executive search firm and the candidate.
In my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search, I talk about the executive search process and approach the dos and don’ts in the recruiting process from all parties’ perspective, the search firm, the hiring company, and the candidate. I advise on how to avoid mistakes and how to maximise success.
If you are interested in knowing more, you can, via this link, get a more detailed description of the content of the book. Also check out the “readers’ ratings” in the Web Shop in order to see what people think about the book!