August 11, 2016 – Beyond irrevocably changing the recruiting industry, technology has opened doors to innovation and opportunities that once would have been unimaginable in the field.
Consider, for example, a company in which dozens upon dozens of recruitment firms sign on to share a database of senior level executives and non-executive directors, including their most-guarded contact information, who are content in their jobs but might be willing to move if the right position became available.
Disrupting How Talent Is Found
That idea would have gone nowhere a decade ago. Among other challenges, no one with access to such information was going to share it with other recruiters. Fast forward to 2016, and pay heed as Anthony Harling explains how the business he started with Joseph Blass a little over a year ago is disrupting the way that search firms find talent. Their firm, Not Actively Looking, now has a clientele of 125 search partners, with many more expected to come aboard.
“The concept came about when we thought about the frustration on both sides of the search industry with the way that we manage information,” Anthony told me recently. “Search firms struggle to keep track of senior people and their career aspirations, while senior people are struggling to work out which search firms are the most relevant in their particular industry, and how they can appropriate visibility to those firms. We just wanted to make things easier for everybody.”
Among other things, Anthony and Joseph brought solid experience and credibility to their endeavor. Anthony is a former search consultant with Heidrick & Struggles and Eric Salmon & Partners. Joseph was CEO of Toucan Telecom.
These days anyone can summon information about innumerable potential job candidates on networking sites like LinkedIn or XING, they realized. The executive search industry, however, is mainly focused on the top tier, says Anthony. Recruiters want the most senior leaders, who represent but a small percentage of the talent out there. They want to know about these individuals, their recent achievements and career aspirations, and of course how to reach them, since such folks seldom post their private mobile telephone numbers or emails online.
“So we thought, ‘What if we had a confidential platform that was only available to the search industry?’” Anthony says. “A place where senior people could link up quickly and easily with precisely those firms that are most likely to be handling the right kind of roles.”
Embracing a New Idea
The idea that a search firm’s database is totally exclusive to them is really out of date, says Anthony. “Executives will be in touch with maybe 10, 20 or 30 firms that we think are relevant. This information is exclusive to the industry, but not to one search firm. We figured we could make that so much easier by letting executives reach all of the firms that are relevant to them via one platform. We talked to a lot of firms about this concept and all of them emphasized the fact that clients pay search firms to find talent that they wouldn’t otherwise find – people who are not actively looking. That’s what search is about and that’s where we got the idea for the name.”
The more forward-thinking search firms quickly embraced the idea and realized how it could make their lives easier. By early August of this year, 125 leading search firms had signed on. Anthony says his firm regards these firms as partners, not just customers, and that meeting their needs is paramount.
“We started off going to see people that we knew,” he says. “The first few gave us confidence that this could be something of real value to them. We then approached firms from all over the world, in the U.S., Europe and in Asia. Nowadays, we get a lot more firms contacting us because we’ve been recommended.”
And while search firms gain from being able to reach the most relevant candidates quickly and easily, Not Actively Looking also helps them to manage the process for handling speculative candidate write-ins, says Anthony. By having the executives register through the platform, search firms save time and money in not having to load those details into their in-house database.
Personal Data Managed by the Candidates
“Each executive will also then keep that profile up to date in the future,” says Anthony. “Each individual consultant can change his or her settings so that they get a personal notification when an executive relevant to their search practice connects with their firm. Someone specializing in supply chain, for example, gets an email saying that a senior executive in that area has registered on NAL and linked with that firm.”
A bigger issue is the European Union’s recently adopted framework for data protection, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will affect any firms holding data on European nationals or looking to do business in Europe. With Not Actively Looking, says Anthony, search firms no longer need to be data controllers.
“Instead, the candidate controls their own data and may delete it or change it at will, thereby removing a tremendous burden from the search firm,” he says. “The forward-looking search firms recognize that they don’t own candidate data per se, and the benefits of Not Actively Looking as a common platform for the industry look very compelling.”
Moreover, the firm has just introduced functionality around non-executive directors and interim executives, which makes the proposition even more compelling.
Fines for a breach of the GDPR regulations can run as high as 20 million Euros or four percent of turnover. But Anthony believes his firm’s approach largely avoids such problems and allays concerns for search firms as well.
“The beauty of our platform is that the executive is responsible for managing his or her own data,” he says. “He or she can amend, upload or delete the information, so effectively it is the executive rather than the search firm who becomes the data controller. For clients of Not Actively Looking, therefore, the system will remove a lot of the potential liability for search firms. People are more and more concerned about what personal data is being held and who controls that data. All we are doing is passing that control back to the executive.”
Not Actively Looking differentiates itself from LinkedIn and other platforms that track and maintain career data in a number of ways. First, it is not a public networking site. It’s unavailable to in-house recruiters, corporate talent acquisition professionals, or lower level contingency recruiters.
“We are an exclusive platform where very senior people, maybe the top one percent of people on LinkedIn, can share confidential information with a few search firms that they themselves select,” says Anthony. “It’s only open to retained executive search firms. Even the search firms on our platform cannot automatically see all executive profiles, but rather need to be chosen by the executives. This exclusivity attracts the best people and gives them the comfort required to share the data.”
These days, Anthony and company are working overtime to get word out about the site. “Many candidates join us through a link on the website of a search firm or through an email campaign done by a search firm,” he says. “However, more and more, executives are joining us independently so we are assuming that there’s a certain ‘word of mouth’ effect. We have candidates now from virtually all around the world from a variety of sectors – some actively looking for a job, but most not actively looking. They just want to stay in touch. What unites all of our candidates is their seniority.”
And though the firm is based in London, the United Kingdom’s recent vote to quit the European Union should have little effect on its operations. “Search firms are global in many cases, and so are executives,” Anthony explains. “We, too, are a global firm that happens to be headquartered in the U.K. By now, less than half the firms on the platform are U.K.-based and only 25 percent of the candidates are U.K.-based.”
Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media