December 19, 2017 – As the executive search industry continues its shift beyond pure-play talent identification, recruiting firms have had to take a more innovative approach to working with clients. For many, this has included everything from creating expanded service offerings to offering value-based pricing models. Flexibility, above all else, reigns supreme.
Perhaps the best example, and the fastest changing trend in the search industry, is the transitioning fee model, said Robin Levitt, president of Encino, CA-based 4D Executive Search, in a recent interview with Hunt Scanlon Media. She called flexibility a cornerstone of her practice, as well as the key to building client partnerships that have spanned decades.
“Today, our clients’ changing needs and non-traditional business structures have made catering to their specific preferences absolutely necessary to thrive in our industry,” she said. “To stay flexible, we currently offer contract, contract-to-hire, retained, partial-retained and hourly search solutions. There’s a gaping hole in the market for this.”
4D Executive Search offers a baseline fee structure. But fees are assessed on a project basis, and clients have choices about fee structuring. This is an approach that Ms. Levitt considers unique.
“From my earliest conversations, I let my clients know that we can be flexible as long as it makes business sense and that none of our services is offered up for free,” she said. “It usually gets a raised eyebrow, but saying it up front is a simple way to put us on the same page in terms of collaboration and expectations. It also signals my firm’s willingness to think outside the box in creating successful working relationships and illustrates our innate understanding of business leaders’ need for options. We’re willing to work with them, and they feel that from our first discussion.”
Ms. Levitt founded 4D Executive Search, which focuses on the human resources needs of start-ups & emerging market and high growth businesses, in 2011. She started her career as regional director of executive search with Human Resources International. In 2003, she formed A&R Consulting, and then six years later became president of RSL, a firm she led for over eight years.
Beyond fees, Ms. Levitt pointed to a rapid shift for many companies away from traditional “temps.” The gig economy, she said, is driving a need for project/interim consultants as well as for skilled, short-term “contract” help. 4D’s response has been to provide contract placement, which essentially comes down to an “on demand” talent offering.
“Our clients are looking for coverage for extended FMLA or parental leaves or they are taking advantage of next-generation staffing strategies to boost their bottom lines,” said Ms. Levitt. “High-level project-based work allows businesses to work with experts without committing to high salaries over the long term. Employers are then free to hire a team-lead at a lower salary to execute on strategies put forth by short-term hires.”
Oftentimes, short-term engagements lead to longer-term employment. “In our ‘on demand’ searches, we’re not simply looking for who is available, we’re wholly focused on identifying qualifications, capabilities, and cultural fit,” said Ms. Levitt. “We treat these searches the same as we do our full-time searches. They’re that important.”
Conflicts of interest, Ms. Levitt agreed, are a potential hazard as search firms move away from pure-play talent identifiers. To avoid such issues, she said it is critical for recruiters to stay true to their central mission and avoid taking on more than is prudent.
“In addition to appreciating our expertise in HR, our clients have found that our culture, approach and processes are a unique fit for the way they now do business,” she said. “So, over the years our partnerships with clients have often evolved beyond HR and into other departments, including operations, sales, marketing, finance and accounting. The key to reaping the benefits of this organic expansion without it being a conflict of interest has been to maintain our core identity and to avoid spreading ourselves too thin. Really, it involves being thoughtful about each forward move and checking egos at the door.”
Culture is the Key
Culture remains the centerpiece of 4D Executive Search’s work with clients, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. “Culture is everything,” said Ms. Levitt. “It is essential. Personal fit can ensure a long-term, mutually beneficial working relationship between a candidate and an employer, even if a candidate has significant areas for growth.”
A perfectly qualified candidate, she noted, will not be successful if they cannot connect with the team around them. “I can’t emphasize enough my belief in the attention recruiters and employers must pay to this metric.”
Culture, in fact, has been the core focus for 4D Executive Search since its inception. Hard skill-sets alone, said Ms. Levitt, will never be enough by themselves to evaluate candidates. “I once had a candidate tell me that my interview with them was better than any therapy session they’d ever had,” she said. “This was because I asked pointed questions designed to help them think about what was the right fit for them.”
And while clients will sometimes look over at a candidate’s resume and say they are not interested, Ms. Levitt said she will often urge them to think twice. “I ask them to trust our instincts with regard to fit beyond what’s on paper,” she said. “It’s common for my clients to hire the person who fits the culture best, not the person who has the best resume.”
The executive search industry, of course, is not without competition. In-house recruitment teams are taking innovative, proactive approaches to finding talent, Ms. Levitt said, and they are saving their companies money. “They’re successful today because they have technology at their fingertips,” she said. “And that technology is enabling them in talent identification.”
Yet she remains convinced that the executive search industry will always have a place. Creating candidate pipelines, after all, has never been the hard part of recruiting. “Where the rubber meets the pavement is taking those long lists of candidates and assessing them for fit and success potential,” said Ms. Levitt. “You can’t get that from scouring LinkedIn for 30 minutes.”
Independent executive recruiters, on the other hand, are uniquely positioned to streamline the process for hiring managers by presenting them with a curated set of resumes. “That’s our value – going deep,” Ms. Levitt said. “Personal relationships, industry knowledge, and instinct – no technology is ever going to beat those soft skills that only we as recruiters possess.”
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