For Executive Search Firms, Analytics Can be a Game Changer

Clients have always wanted more tangible proof about which candidate is best to hire. Today, search firms are using Big Data to provide that and much more. And they are only getting started.

August 17, 2017 – Big data is rewriting the script for how companies around the world do business. The market for big data and business analytics is expected to grow to $203 billion in the next three years, according to the International Data Corporation, a marketplace intelligence provider.

It only makes sense that analytics should become an increasingly vital component of the executive search process. Clients have forever been longing for better, more concrete, evidence about whom they should they hire and why. But analytics also reveals a lot about the hiring process itself and where adjustments must be made to produce the best results, and more.

“I find that executives react well to hard data,” said Ian Ide, managing director and partner at WinterWyman. “It’s tangible and sets the stage for a much better conversation. The data provides evidence and allows the client to draw logical conclusions. If parameters of the search need to be changed, the data arms the stakeholders for conversations they may need to have throughout their organization.”

Some of the search parameters that may change include compensation level and reporting structure, said Mr. Ide. “In other cases, mapping the candidate pool and gaining an understanding of the availability of local talent at the outset of the search helps us decide whether we conduct the search nationally or locally, as well as understand what industries might be particularly viable,” he added.

A Baseline Norm

Mr. Ide oversees operations and delivery activities for the Waltham, MA-based executive search firm, ensuring that its offerings are effectively meeting client needs. He also works directly with clients in regard to their executive hiring needs.


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One area that’s clearly of interest to clients is being able to quantify and analyze positive or negative reactions toward their particular search. To cull such information from the data, said Mr. Ide, it’s important to establish a baseline norm and proceed from there.

“We track how candidates are reacting to a search and how that compares to other searches with similar parameters, companies, etc.,” he explained. “Once we have had enough conversations to have a viable data set, we can provide feedback on a company’s reputation, reaction to the opportunity, target salary and reporting structure, along with common questions that have arisen. By providing clients with this information early in the search process, it allows for adjustments to be made when necessary and possible.”

Making Adjustments

Data-driven analysis on the front-end of a search can help facilitate necessary adjustments to parameters such as compensation or relocation, said Mr. Ide. This becomes relevant in emerging sectors where there is a dearth of outside information to draw upon. “For example, leadership roles within the data and analytics space; many companies are hiring chief data officers for the first time,” he said. “Questions such as, ‘Who should that role report into?’ and, ‘What is a competitive pay package?’ are the kinds of questions many companies are facing.”

To be able to compare results, it is critical to maintain multiple sets of data as points, said Mr. Ide. After all, the information can be very different from search to search and company to company. “It’s crucial to get a comparable set of data by which to compare the search,” he said. “For example, an executive search for a well-known leader in the marketplace may generate a better reaction than the executive role for an unknown company. Having a relevant point of comparison will make all of the data much more meaningful and relevant.”

Greater Transparency

Data also gives clients a better understanding of the efforts and actions that search firms are taking in conducting the search assignment. Without data, the client would have no context with which to react to perspective candidates. “There are considerable amounts of research, outreach and assessment that happens before presenting candidates,” said Mr. Ide. “By providing transparency the client understands the work that’s being done on their behalf, along with context with the candidates who are ultimately presented. It also allows for corrections if a search is going down the wrong path. The data and feedback allows the search to stay on track – positively affecting the timeliness and effectiveness of the search.”


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In these scenarios, data can lead to greater efficiency in the search process, including a higher completion rate. “It also allows for communication to ensure we are on point and on track with our efforts,” said Mr. Ide. “Time is always a factor and data will allow us to get the right person on board sooner.”

Data also provides a detailed understanding as to what is realistic and what is not with the candidate requirements. “The data should be able to tell you how many meet the candidate requirements and at what point do the requirements make the candidate pool too small to be realistic,” said Mr. Ide. “With this, we can provide insight on how modifications to the requirements can specifically impact the size of the candidate pool.”

Data is a Tool

What must always be remembered, however, is that data is all but useless in itself. It’s a tool and it requires experienced people to break it down and interpret it. “Data can easily become overwhelming if you are not curating it,” said Mr. Ide. “Our job is to help make sense of that data and allow our clients to make informed decisions with it. It’s important as a search firm to be able to say, ‘What is the analysis, what are the trends we are seeing, and what are the points that we are trying to make based on what we are looking at.’ At that point, we can help use the data to help drive that narrative, versus just throwing data at a client without a reference point.”


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Added to the mix are the many forms of data presentation tools, such as dashboards and decks. Which choice is most effective depends on the customer, said Mr. Ide. “There are some clients who are very detailed oriented and would like a considerable amount of information,” he said. “There are others who will be less interested in the data — there is a range. You need to access your audience, talk about this at the start of the search and fine-tune and customize the process along the way to ensure it’s meaningful and useful.”

Looking ahead five to 10 years, Mr. Ide expects that data analytics will only become more vital to the search process. The industry is just at the beginning of what it might be able to do with data: “I think it will become more of a differentiator between executive search firms, especially those that have built a body of work and an expertise in a particular area or field,” he said. “These recruiters will have a data set that can be leveraged in conjunction with their network and successes.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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