When and Why to Hire an Executive Search Firm

Given the investment of time and resources, enlisting an executive search firm is not a decision to take lightly. A new report from Development Guild DDI provides key considerations and questions to keep in mind when bringing a recruitment professional on board. Let’s take a closer look!

March 24, 2021 – Employers typically use an executive search firm when a top job opening is important enough, senior enough and when discretion is at a premium. Organizations justifiably take many criteria into account when considering partnering with an executive search firm. However, engaging an executive search firm is an investment of time and resources, which means that it requires careful consideration, according to a new report from Bill Weber, co-founder of non-profit specialist recruitment firm Development Guild DDI. Mr. Weber offers three key considerations and questions to keep in mind when bringing a top-flight professional recruiter on board. He then outlines some common misconceptions.

Consideration No. 1: The significance of the role

Does this search represent a strategic investment in the long-term success and growth of your organization?

Recruiting an exceptional senior-level candidate can be a pivot point for an organization,” said Mr. Weber. “It’s a chance to reassess and set goals, strategies, and your long-term vision. An executive search firm can help you design a process that will effectively assess candidates’ ability to embrace your mission and build upon the current success. They can also partner with you to ensure the right hiring and on-boarding conditions, so your new hire is ready for impact from day one.”

Consideration No. 2: The challenge of finding great candidates

Is this role the first of its kind at your organization? And/or are you looking to engage candidates in areas you never have before? Have you already started the search and are finding it difficult to attract the kinds of candidates you’re seeking?

Conducting a search for a new kind of position can be an exciting yet daunting undertaking, and the same can be said when you are looking to attract candidates with a certain expertise or experience that you haven’t recruited before,” Mr. Weber said. “In both cases, engaging an executive search firm can provide invaluable help in a highly competitive marketplace. Executive search firms provide access to an expansive and ever-growing pipeline of potential candidates, while drawing on their industry, function, role and geodemographic expertise to help you define and position the role in a way that will attract and secure the best candidates.”

 Executive search firms also have the time, resources, and skills to engage “hidden” candidates – professionals who fit your ideal candidate profile but are not actively seeking a new position. “Both active and hidden candidates value the confidentiality, consistent communications, and well-managed search process a firm provides, which will give you a leg up amongst competing organizations who are focused on the same highly sought-after talent,” Mr. Weber said.

Consideration No. 3: The importance of a trusted and effective search process

Is ensuring a fair, equitable process with buy-in from all key stakeholders a top priority? And a potential challenge?

“A thoughtful search can surface lingering and/or complex internal misalignments, which can slow the process and make effective decision-making difficult,” said Mr. Weber. “In these cases, an executive search firm can act as an impartial mediator, attuned to every stakeholder’s needs and focused on achieving alignment. By providing a focused, efficient, and communicative process, an executive search firm helps keep all relevant parties informed and engaged, while also ensuring that each candidate is given full, fair consideration. The end result is a final decision made with confidence and support from internal and external stakeholders,” he said.

Common Misconceptions 

Mr. Weber also addressed a few common misconceptions. Among them:

Misconception No. 1: Our internal recruiter/HR department can conduct the search just as effectively as a firm

Internal recruiters usually focus exclusively on candidates who have applied or can be found in active candidate databases. “As mentioned, this means a large and highly valuable pool of ‘hidden’ candidates will be overlooked,” Mr. Weber said. “And while, there are some (less common) cases where an organization’s internal recruiter does conduct active outreach, there are still limits to their influence and time, as they usually lack the authority to reshape the role as needed, and they must attend to multiple responsibilities in addition to filling the role.”

As Development Guild DDI co-founder, Bill Weber has focused his career on the convergence of strategic planning, philanthropy, and leadership development and the transformational impact it can have on an institution. He has served clients such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Johns Hopkins Medicine, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mount Sinai Health System, Union of Concerned Scientists, University of Miami, and Year Up.

“An executive search firm can also prove helpful in handling the sometimes-tricky situation of internal candidates,” he said. “And through every stage of the process, they act as a partner to the internal recruiter rather than a substitute, providing a sounding board and a fresh, external perspective and methodology.”

Related: Crisis Put CEO Successions on Hold in 2020; Expect a Rebound in 2021  

Misconception No. 2: Hiring an executive search firm is too expensive

Of course, hiring an executive search firm won’t always be the right decision. Mr. Weber said if it’s a lower-level position and/or a non-critical hire, then the financial investment won’t be necessary. “But if any of the considerations outlined above apply to you, then hiring an executive search firm is a worthy investment that will very likely save you money in the long run,” he said. “A firm’s partnership increases your probability of recruiting a highly talented professional who stays. This means you are more likely to avoid the costly outcome of a hire’s short tenure.”

Misconception No. 3: It makes sense to hire an executive search firm for the sole reason that you lack the time/capacity to manage the process yourself

If you are hoping to be minimally involved beyond sharing your ideal candidate profile and interviewing finalists, then hiring an executive search firm probably isn’t the right decision, according to Mr. Weber. “An executive search firm strives to be a true partner at every step; it is a highly collaborative relationship,” he said. “If you are solely seeking their help to manage/speed up the process while you attend to other priorities, you may end up feeling unsatisfied with their approach and/or unwilling to accept their advice.”

Development Guild DDI, which has offices in New York and Boston, was founded in 1978. The firm helps clients align leadership around a strategic vision with its planning, executive search, and fundraising services. The firm works with non-profits nationwide, partnering with leaders in academic medicine, higher education, arts and culture, human services, and others. Development Guild’s clients, which number more than 500, have included: Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Tufts Medical Center, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, College of the Holy Cross, Partners in Health, University of Rhode Island Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Cancer Society.

Related: 12 Reasons Why Companies Hire Executive Search Firms

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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