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A central question for executive recruiters, or people who hire executive recruiters, is this:  are you filling an order or are you engaging in a comprehensive journey to find a qualified executive who will “fit” in the client organization and deliver sustainable value?

recruitingAs I have written in the past, the vast majority of recruiters working today function more like fulfillment specialists.  They work from “job orders” frequently without ever spending any time with their client, digging into their culture, or understanding the personalities of a candidate’s future colleagues.  This lack of cultural awareness is a big reason why the turnover rate for managers and executives recruited from outside a company  approaches 40 percent by their second year of employment.

The fulfillment specialists do a decent job evaluating whether the candidate meets the job specs — degrees, certifications, number of years and types of experience, that sort of thing. While that part of the screening process is important, it is a job that a junior level researcher or computer screening programs can do.  Besides, very few candidates fail because they did not have the requisite degrees, experience, etc.  The vast majority leave, or are forced out, because they did not “fit” and that is the hard part of management and executive recruiting.

People who believe that computer algorithms will minimize this turnover risk are whistling past the graveyard, so to speak.

“There is not a formula.  I have learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover,” says Aileen Lee, founder and partner of the venture capital firm, Cowboy Ventures, who was the focus of the Corner Office profile in The New York Times on Sunday. When she evaluates potential deals to back, Ms. Lee knows that success or failure of her firm’s investment will hinge with the CEO.  “You have to get under the hood and spend quality time with someone to understand what they’re really good at.  If you don’t then you are only going to back extrovert Type A people who are good at selling… And it is not clear that’s a requirement for building a great company.”  Or, from the executive recruiters perspective, being an effective leader who can adapt to the ways of their new employer.

To be successful in recruiting the right talent for a client, or for your own organization, you must have a deep understanding of the company’s culture as well as their leadership needs — what they will be expected to deliver in terms of results and the type of individual who will be a respected part of the team.  That is where it starts.  From there you explore their experience, their successes and failures and, most importantly, their values — how they go about the work and how they treat people – their customers and employees.

There are many people in this world who call themselves executive recruiters but most just record the job order and fill it.  The number of recruiters who “get it right” are few and far between, even when you include the national firms.  The real executive recruiters who are part of that elite group know that a successful search requires an appreciation for how the specific business works, extensive research on the client and candidates, a strong sense of curiosity and, most importantly, excellent interviewing skills.

The latter can make the difference between good and great in the world of executive search where bigger is not always better.

Editor’s Note:  Prior to entering the healthcare field in 1976, Mr. Self spent more than five years  as a newspaper editor, reporter and an investigative journalist for newspapers in Tyler, Lubbock and Houston, Texas.