What a Headhunter Can and Can't Do for You

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by: Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. author of "Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer."


There are three things that make a business successful: a good idea, capital, and the people who can make it happen.

But ultimately, the most critical ingredient for success is people.

Knowing that, it amazes me that the role of top-flight executive search professionals is not always fully understood by the business world and its advisors. But perhaps that is because the best executive search firms rarely talk about the work they’re doing. They just get it done, letting the results speak for themselves to generate new and repeat business.

When I first entered the executive search field in the late 1960s, it was viewed as a somewhat shady business that didn’t attract particularly talented or well-educated professionals.

Today, nothing could be further from the truth.

The executive search industry now attracts some of the best and brightest to its ranks and garners tremendous respect around the world – in large part because finding the right candidate for an executive position can actually increase the value of the hiring organization. In one case, as I cite in "Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer, after a large multinational company announced publicly that it was hiring a well-known executive for a senior position, the company’s market value increased by several billion dollars in a single day. That is an immediate, quantitative measure of the value recruiting can bring to companies.

At RSR Partners(the firm I founded in 1993 after retiring from my first firm, Russell Reynolds Associates), our objective is clear: to identify, attract, and evaluate outstanding candidates from whom clients can select individuals they believe will help the company attain or surpass its goals. Prospective candidates are extensively screened and must survive several rounds of talks before being invited for an intensive face-to-face interview with the recruiter. Constant, and discreet, communications are maintained with client and candidates throughout the process; and even after an offer is extended, we remain in contact with both the client and the candidate to ensure a smooth transition and satisfactory completion of the assignment.

For those being recruited, it’s equally essential to understand what executive search is – and is not. If knowledge is power, then the more you know about the process, the more influence you will have in managing it as a candidate, and coming out on top in your dealings with an executive recruiter. For example, candidates need to remember that the recruiter is working for the client, not them. Search firms are not employment agencies; they do not find positions for candidates, nor do they counsel candidates on their career goals or management skills, although they have the ability to do so.

That said, candidates can clearly benefit from working with a respected firm that is retained by a client organization. They can expect confidentiality, professional treatment, and full disclosure about the client and position in order to make an informed decision. Also, besides access to a hidden job market (since retained searches are rarely advertised), candidates can count on receiving advantageous positioning. Even if a candidate does not receive an offer, the recruitment provides experience and contacts.

In today’s Internet age, some might wonder whether executive search is still relevant and necessary. The simple answer is: It is. As a lifelong social networker, I tend to have my own inventory of candidates in my head. There are 50 people I could think of whom I could call in five minutes and get them to come to my office on some opportunity or other, depending on what I said to them. Executive recruiting remains a matter of instinct, requiring discerning judgment in matching top-quality, honest, dependable executives with like-minded companies.

That is what leads to success for all involved.

RSR Partners is an executive, board, and leadership recruiting firm based in Greenwich, CT, with offices in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. The firm was launched in 1993 by Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. He is the author of "Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer." RSR Partners has been on the leading edge of advising CEOs and boards on C-suite recruiting, succession planning, and talent assessment on a global scale.

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