Partners in the Process: Improving the Search / HR Relationship

June 3, 2016 –

Many executive search consultants active in the industry today first maintained successful careers on the corporate side — holding rank in the very disciplines they now recruit for. In fact, a good number of them held positions in human resources and now bring the added value of being able to see the search business through that prism, allowing them to understand the recruiting business better than most.

Few, however, know both sides of the spectrum better than J. James O’Malley, now a partner with TalentRISE. Prior to joining the Chicago-based search firm, Jim was senior vice president in the human resource function of Fifth Third Bancorp where he built the infrastructure to support the organization’s strategic workforce planning needs while attracting, retaining and recruiting the bank’s executive workforce. In this capacity, and in earlier HR stints with Huron Consulting Group and Edward Don & Company, Jim developed a keen understanding of what top quality recruitment is really all about. 

In the following interview, Jim discusses his tenure in HR and how he has leveraged that knowledge base in his current career. He critiques the HR / search relationship and explores why being ‘partners in the process’ is now more critical than ever. 


Jim, you entered executive search through the door of HR. Give us your thoughts on that. 

Most of my career has been spent on the other side of the table. As an HR executive, I worked with and negotiated with many executive recruiters, having engaged with both 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 final retainer and fee tail is contingent on acceptance of an offer, and we invest in a formal on-boarding process for every executive we place with our clients.    

Having worked in HR and now in search, how do you think both parties can more effectively work together as partners?

For me, it always boils down to the basics and good execution. And for that to happen communication is key. Based on our experience, here are six points in which we can help optimize the search process: 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).

Many companies today are bolstering their in-house recruiting teams to streamline the hiring process. How will this affect the search business and do you see limitations to internal recruitment?

From my observations and experience, the spectrum from success to failure is wide with respect to in-house recruiting. Many companies that have built internal executive search capabilities have achieved impressive results. 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 vs. outsourcing search is to weigh the most important criteria in building vs. buying as follows: 1) the relative cost; 2) the relative output; 3) the ease and speed of search and focus; 4) the cultural component; and 5) the strategic component. 

You once worked for companies that maintained very distinct corporate cultures. Do you think external recruiters understand their client’s culture — and how critical is understanding the culture of your client during the hiring process?

Much is made about culture fit in recruitment and rightly so. 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 (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.

How do you best describe your ‘on demand recruiting’ service?

It’s recruiting when you want it and where you need 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. 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 is 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 of the research and competitive intelligence that was developed during the engagement.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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