Reimaging Executive Search in the Age of AI

Last year, NU Advisory Partners was launched by former Russell Reynolds Associates recruiters Mar Hernandez, Libby Naumes, Meredith Rosenberg, and Nada Usina. The firm is focused on senior executive, operating, and board positions. Ms. Usina is CEO of NU Advisory Partners. Known to be a driven and direct counselor and mentor, her board, CEO and C-suite placement expertise spans technology, sports, media, entertainment, industrial, and numerous other industries. Ms. Usina recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss how her firm uses artificial intelligence and how the human element is still essential.

April 10, 2024 – Nada, since NU Advisory opened its doors, how has the firm approached the use of artificial intelligence?

As we’ve been building NU Advisory Partners, it’s always seemed an apt omen that we were born the year that artificial intelligence (AI) hit the mainstream consciousness. After all, one reason we set out on this adventure is that we saw a huge opportunity to reinvent the executive search business, in part, through technology. Let’s be clear: We don’t think your next CEO or board member will be selected by an algorithm. Executive search is about people connecting with people. Our relationships, experience, and perceptions are an essential part of the service we deliver. And they always will be. But using technology smartly empowers us to extend the reach of our human judgment.

Was this the plan from the start?

By launching in 2023, we had the opportunity to incorporate the latest technology, especially AI, into everything we do from the start. We’ve got all the capabilities that the large firms have, but we are not burdened by generations of legacy systems and the IT bureaucracy that grows up around them. We can also be faster and more creative in exploiting new innovations. Indeed, embracing technology is a core tenet of our culture. Nearly every meeting we have includes a discussion about how AI or other innovations can help us work smarter.

Can you provide some examples?

Consider how we’re building our database of people and companies. Every search firm has one, and ours is based on commercially available software. But we’re using AI to make the data we collect richer and more accurate. Information comes to us from many sources and in a variety of formats. There are feeds from commercial databases, articles and web pages, emails from potential candidates, and notes of our consultants. We can route all these through an AI system trained to standardize, structure, and tag the data. As a result, we’ve got more and better information at our fingertips every time we begin a search. Of course, we’ve been quick to explore the many possibilities of generative AI. We already are putting it to use to draft job descriptions and identify candidates, and we’re now preparing to deploy it in more sophisticated and systematic ways. That includes building our expertise in “prompt engineering,” that is, the art of phrasing queries to produce the precise results you need.

How has this helped your consultants during the search process?

A lot of our initial efforts have been in automating routine and repetitive tasks so everyone on our team, from partners to executive assistants, can spend more time on more challenging tasks for which their skill and experience make a difference. Technology also enables us to build more transparent and collaborative relationships with our clients. At any time, they can log into our system, see the progress of a search, and enter their own comments on any candidate. For the people who would rather just receive periodic status updates, we have worked to make our reports especially useful and informative.

“Technology also enables us to build more transparent and collaborative relationships with our clients.”

How else has AI helped NU Advisory?

We’re already leading the way in leveraging AI for executive search, but we’re only getting started. One promising avenue: using it to help with the initial evaluation of potential hires, thus freeing our professionals for more sophisticated assessments. Our plan is to train an AI system with hundreds of candidate assessments that our consultants have written. We will then feed that model a new candidate’s biographical information, an interview transcript, and our consultants’ notes, from which the AI will draft an initial assessment that reflects our style and approach. As with the other examples we’ve discussed, these assessments aren’t meant to replace our judgment but rather to enhance it. We see AI becoming another member of our team, much as we would view a promising associate. It will help with research and organizing information, and it will occasionally point out things that others may have missed, helping us to avoid unpleasant, last-minute surprises. Like every member of our team, we assume that our AI will continue to grow and learn with us over time.

Anything else you would like to add?

In our professional opinion, AI is far from filling a more senior role here. Though it may well have the IQ, it doesn’t have the EQ to solve the very complicated problems of leadership, organization, and culture that our clients bring us. Our mandate remains the same: to listen carefully to clients and candidates, notice the nuances of each situation, and find the best solution that takes it all into account. AI and how we use it gives us the benefit of more time to do just that. We’re thrilled that our NU technology allows us to do that better than ever.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments