Recruiters Turn to Specialization to Find Niche Talent

February 4, 2016 – To keep pace with the evolving needs of diverse, multinational client companies, search firms must respond accordingly, says Geoff Hoffmann, CEO of DHR International. Their consultants must have a broad base of experience and a global presence. And specialization matters as much, if not more, than ever.

“The generalist approach to executive search has been rendered largely ineffective, and for more than a decade it has been essential to develop specific domain expertise in functional or industry verticals to deliver the best possible service levels to clients,” he says. “Specialization will continue to develop for the foreseeable future in our industry as even more specific niche markets are established.”

Making Adjustments, Digging Deeper

Geoff knows about growing a business, not to mention the intricacies of specialization. His Chicago-based firm is the sixth largest executive recruitment business in the U.S. DHR, with 18 practice areas, has wholly-owned offices in dozens of locations around the world. The firm has also seen double-digit growth rates over the last five years. And this year DHR could very well enjoy revenues exceeding any other time in its 27-year history.

Geoff joined DHR 17 year ago and since that time has been involved in every aspect of the business – from strategic planning, branding & public relations, corporate marketing, and internal recruiting to directing various functions and global operations. He was promoted to chief executive officer in 2012.

With specialization, Geoff explains, comes the need for search firms to make adjustments on several fronts. Recruitment firms have to dig deeper and pay closer attention to a client company’s particular needs and how they do business. It’s a boots-on-the-ground approach that leads to better service all the way around.

“A firm needs to have a sizable consultant base with experience that is relevant to not only a client’s general corporate team, but also to the hiring needs of its business unit managers,” he says. “We have seen the hiring process at many major companies become more decentralized which highlights the importance of an industry or functional concentration. As a result, it’s become more commonplace for us to have multiple consultants involved in client relationships from both a geographic and industry perspective. This, in turn, has led to shorter execution times, stronger relationships, and satisfied clients.”

Certainly, DHR is a firm that practices what its leader preaches. It’s won any number of high profile assignments over the years, with even more coming as a result of growth and more people becoming aware of its brand. “But this has never been the focus of our efforts,” he says. “We are intent on growing consultative partnerships with our clients by helping them achieve their growth objectives through recruiting world class leaders across their organizations.”


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An Integrated Approach

Recently, DHR expanded its offerings by launching an assessment and leadership development business. These days, clients tend to expect more from their search partners than just finding candidates. And search firms, which develop such a strong understanding of their clients’ companies and their people, are in a unique position to provide valuable advice.

“In the simplest of terms, clients are more sophisticated about talent management and taking a more integrated approach,” Geoff says. “They don’t simply want us to find and recruit talent. They want our help with on-boarding new recruits, advice on top team effectiveness, and our thoughts on succession planning and leadership development. The base of our industry is rooted in client relationships and because we know our clients’ culture and their people so well, we are in a position to help them think more holistically about talent management challenges. Recruiting is one very important piece of the puzzle. But clients want us to be a trusted advisor about a whole range of interwoven talent management issues.”

That means that search firm must have a strategic perspective about their client companies, to be able to help them anticipate issues and challenges and provide insight and suggestions about how best to respond in terms of talent. “Today we work closely with CEOs, boards, and heads of HR to think about the client’s unique strategy and goals three to five years out,” says Geoff. “We then help clients think about the kinds of talent and capability they will need to successfully execute their strategy. Search consultants will need a more holistic mindset and deeper understanding in evaluating how new placements will likely fit into the client’s culture and step into broader leadership roles over time. We currently have the tools to make these changes and know that in the near future they will be the industry norm rather than the exception.”

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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