Clear Expectations, Communication Are Key to a Strong Search

July 5, 2016 – For J. James O’Malley, a partner with TalentRISE in Chicago, it is essential that search firms look closely at the needs of their clients and emphasize communication on both sides to achieve the best outcome for everyone. Having worked as an HR executive and as a search consultant, Jim knows the challenges companies face in trying to fill their executive openings. He also knows about giving his clients that something extra that adds value to his firm’s work.

“Most of my career has been spent on the other side of the table,” he says. “As an HR executive, I worked with and negotiated with many executive recruiters, having engaged with the largest firms and the specialized boutiques. I feel I have a very good understanding of what the client is thinking – what their issues and concerns are – and so I felt very strongly that when we set out to build a retained search capability for TalentRISE that we wanted to do so with the thinking about our clients first and what they might be expecting from us. For example, our first retainer and fee tail is contingent on acceptance of an offer, and we invest in a formal onboard process for every executive we place with our clients.”

Before joining TalentRISE, Jim was senior vice president in the human resource function of Fifth Third Bancorp. During his tenure there, Jim built the infrastructure to support the bank’s strategic workforce planning needs while attracting, retaining, and recruiting its executive workforce. Previously, he worked in HR for Huron Consulting Group and Edward Don & Company. That full spectrum of experience gives him an insight into the business of search that was more than evident when we spoke recently.

Six Ways to Optimize the Search Process

For recruiters, roadblocks are inevitable, Jim says. Challenges come with the job. But it’s possible to avoid the most common problems by making sure one has the basics well in hand and employing strong execution. It’s important that clients understand a recruiter’s needs as well. “Based on our experience, here are six points in which we can help optimize the search process,” says Jim. “First, indicate clearly those areas relevant to the search that you wish for us to keep confidential. Second, provide timely feedback to us on all aspects of the assignment. We look for a 48-hour turnaround. Third, schedule interviews promptly with candidates and report your findings as soon as possible. Fourth, provide us with information on candidates you may have identified from other sources or from within your organization, so that they may be evaluated as part of the search. Fifth, provide information to candidates about your company that will enable them to make informed career decisions. We think an open, honest discussion about culture is key here. Finally, sixth, agree with us on a communication strategy to discuss the progress of the search, including marketplace intelligence affecting the assignment and the steps we can both take to employ this to your benefit. We look to connect at least once a week.”

One of the big decisions that companies face today is whether they want to have their own in-house recruiting function rather than depend on outside search firms. An internal operation is a significant commitment, and how well it goes often depends on the degree of thought and preparation companies put into the matter. “Many companies that have built internal executive search capabilities have achieved impressive results,” says Jim. “Others have been disasters, especially when companies try to establish the function in-house with no clear strategy, unrealistic expectations, and responsibility not clearly delineated. The best way to compare the relative merits of in-sourcing versus outsourcing search is to weigh the most important criteria in building versus buying as follows: One, the relative cost. Two, the relative output. Three, the ease and speed of search and focus. Four, the cultural component. And five, the strategic component.”

On Demand Recruiting

A frequently touted point in favor of having an in-house search function is that no one knows the culture of an organization as well as those who work there. That may be true, Jim says, but that shouldn’t exclude using a search firm that is committed to understanding its client’s environment. “Much is made about culture fit in recruitment and rightly so,” he says. “It’s logical that in-house recruiters have a leg up on their external, hired-gun contemporaries. On the flip side, all things being equal, this should not be an argument against hiring an external firm since most companies speak of their culture aspirationally; in other words, as what they want it to be. Most experienced and reputable search firms seek to learn the pulse of the organizations they serve. During the intake process, our primary objective should include getting to know our client’s culture. If the external recruiters you are working with don’t ask those questions, then you need to look elsewhere.”

At TalentRISE, Jim has a particular passion for the firm’s ‘on demand’ recruitment service. He describes it as recruitment when the client company wants it and where it needs it. “We have taken everything that we have learned for recruiting senior level executives – process, tools, technology, and methods – and are now applying that approach to the level beneath executives,” he says. “We know that our clients are struggling to recruit experienced professionals below the executive level but above the non-exempt level, where active candidate sourcing methods are sufficient. You can’t post and pray that you will attract the right manager candidate, and the only alternative there seems to be contingent search. Our clients love the fact that they can pay us a flat hourly rate, get an experienced consultant to work on several jobs and get multiple hires in the span of a 90-day engagement, along with all the research and competitive intelligence that was developed during the engagement.”

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

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