December 1, 2017 – While large search firms have offered a myriad of talent offerings for years, they’ve more or less kept their traditional fee structures intact. That’s provided an opportunity for boutique firms to move in and fill a widening gap, especially in the area of pricing reinvention.
Robin Levitt, president of Encino, CA-based 4D Executive Search, is one such player. She’s developed a search firm that offers an expansive range of services – from retained and contract recruiting to contract-to-hire and even hourly search solutions. “Our clients,” said Ms. Levitt recently in a wide-ranging interview with Hunt Scanlon Media, “have found that our culture, approach and processes are a unique fit for the way they now do business. I continually hear that it’s our flexibility, focus on solutions and depth of understanding that leads to better outcomes”
In the following interview, Ms. Levitt discusses a number of search sector trends, including potential conflicts of interest in offering tangential recruitment solutions. But conflicts aside, she believes flexibility is the key to long-term client relationships. Ms. Levitt started her career as regional director – executive search with Human Resources International. She formed A&R Consulting in 2003, and then six years later became president of RSL, a firm she led for over eight years. In 2011, Ms. Levitt founded 4D Executive Search, focused on the human resources needs of start-ups & emerging market and high growth businesses.
Fee models in executive search are changing. What are you seeing, Robin?
Levitt: The transitioning fee model is the fastest changing trend in recruiting and it highlights the importance of flexibility as we build long-lasting business relationships with our clients. Flexibility has always been one of the most effective cornerstones of my practice. It’s the one thing that has allowed me to build client partnerships that span 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. 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.
So, how does this work?
Levitt: We have a baseline fee structure that we work from. But, importantly, and I think unique to us, we assess fees on a project basis, and we always give our clients choices with regard to fee structuring. 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. 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.
“The executive search industry will always have a place in the market. In-house recruitment teams are taking innovative, proactive approaches and saving money along the way. Technology is enabling them in talent identification. But assessing candidates for fit and success potential – that’s where recruiters come in.”
4D Executive Search provides contract placement. Is that essentially an “on demand” talent offering?
Levitt: There’s been a rapid shift away from traditional “temps.” The gig economy is driving the need for project/interim consultants and it is also driving employers to seek skilled, short-term “contract” help. 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. 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. In many cases, 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. We treat these searches the same as we do our full-time searches. They’re that important.
Do you see any inherent conflicts of interest as search firms move from pure-play talent identifiers?
Levitt: I started my executive search career as a human resources specialist, and I have maintained this focus for nearly 20 years. It has been an important differentiator for 4D and our core revenue driver. However, 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. 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 fit and engagement are hot topics across the recruitment sector. How do you evaluate the cultures within your client base?
Levitt: Culture is everything. 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 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. When we created the concept behind 4D Executive Search, culture was the core focus: looking at candidates on dimensions other than hard skillsets. I once had a candidate tell me that my interview with them was better than any therapy session they’d ever had! This was because I asked pointed questions designed to help them think about what was the right fit for them. There are times that companies will see a resume and tell us they are not interested in the candidate. I’m not afraid to push my clients in these instances. I ask them to trust our instincts with regard to fit beyond what’s on paper. It’s common for my clients to hire the person who fits the culture best, not the person who has the best resume.
What impact are in-house recruiting teams and social media recruitment tools having on the impact the executive search industry?
Levitt: I believe the executive search industry will always have a place in the market. In-house recruitment teams are taking innovative, proactive approaches. And they’re indeed saving money along the way. They’re successful today because they have technology at their fingertips. And that technology is enabling them in talent identification. It’s basic. Creating candidate pipelines has never been the difficult task in recruiting. I would argue that where the rubber meets the pavement is taking those long lists of candidates and assessing them for fit and success potential. You can’t get that from scouring LinkedIn for 30 minutes. Independent executive recruiters 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. 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