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Today we are focusing on Executive Recruitment.

We begin with a common mistake many boards make when they engage a search firm and how that mistake dramatically affects the quality of the candidates they are presented.

And then we will flip sides and look at a common misunderstanding executive candidates have when working with executive recruiters.

Large organizations frequently fall into a buying trap called “bigger is better.” The search firm with the biggest name and with the largest number of offices across the country, well they must be better at what they do because they do it more than the other guys. Makes sense, right? More experience, more resources, and a national reputation will ensure a better performance, or at least that is the conventional wisdom.

That scenario might be plausible if it were not for something called the “Off Limits” or “No Contact” list, an ethical standard that has long been a part of the executive search industry. This standard precludes a search firm from recruiting candidates from an organization from which they have done business within the last three years. So when a search firm closes a deal from a hospital or health system, they cannot recruit that health system’s executives for the next 36 months without permission from that organization.  If the firm keeps doing work for the organization, that number keeps rolling over for another three years. Some firms only offer protection for one year, others five years which is a gold standard.

National firms that complete 50 to 100 engagements a year face major restrictions on their candidate sourcing. They may have from 50 to more than 250 health systems and/or hospitals on their lock-up or no contact list every year. That is a very significant number in the world of executive recruitment. When they begin every search, these firms are ethically blocked from contacting some of the best and most accomplished leaders, thus diminishing the quality of the candidate panel they present to their new client.

In other industries like retail or communications, boards are aware of this ethical limitation and often hire two firms for critical search assignments — a national company and a specialty boutique firm. They do this to ensure they will see the best available candidates. The boutique organization can contact businesses the larger firms must avoid because of their “no contact” or “hands off list.”

When hiring a search firm, board members are entitled to see a particular organization’s “lock up” or “do not contact” lists because this will directly impact the outcome.

That the firm’s representatives will argue the size of their off limits list will not be a problem should come as no surprise. What is surprising is how few governing boards understand that rule and never bother to ask about it.

An experienced boutique firm has more flexibility and, as experience demonstrates, can consistently produce a panel with a higher percentage of “A” list candidates.

So when you hire an executive recruiter be sure to ask that important question because size really does matter.

If you are an executive employed by an organization on the Do Not Contact list of a major search firm, do not be frustrated when the search consultants do not return your calls. You are just in the wrong organization at the wrong time. You essentially have four options if you are ready to move up in your career but your organization is on the do not contact list. You can quit, you can be laid off, you can get the sack, or you can ask your boss for permission to talk with the firm’s recruiters. But be forewarned that in any of those scenarios there are no guarantees

These are the times that try men’s souls. Industry contraction and consolidation are contributing to a very tight job market. These economic conditions mean one thing if you are an executive who is in the market for a new job: competition. And a lot of it.

In my Tuesday blog, I focused on an executive who is growing increasingly frustrated, and just a bit desperate. He has been looking for a job for more than 18 months and at 55-years of age, he knows that his career clock is ticking. If he does not land a position soon, his outplacement coach advised, it will be increasingly difficult to get a recruiter or an employer to pay attention.

He is not giving up and is currently working on retooling his approach to the search process from the ground up.

I have previously reported that there are a growing number of healthcare executives who find themselves forced into early retirement, not because it was their career plan, but because they could not rebound from their last transition regardless of the reason for the exit.

In my coaching of executives who are in transition, I see several problems that are contributing to their lack of success.

First, they have too many short-tenured positions. In other words, ineffective career management. That has always been a yellow flag of caution, but now for many recruiters and employers repeated short terms of employment — typically anything more than two instances — is like a flashing red strobe light in a dark room. They are a deal killer. Candidates must do whatever they can to avoid making choices that could earn the unenviable brand of “job hopper.”

If you would like more information on this point, email me at AsktheRecruiter@JohnGSelf.Com. I am happy to share some of our insights that can help you avoid those pitfalls.

Second, candidates begin to lose the right perspective. Frustration, fear and even anger distorts their balance. The longer it takes to land that next job, the more the process becomes about them and not the client. For job candidates, that mental outlook is a very bad place to find yourself. This is the job search equivalent of a death spiral. With a flood of qualified candidates in the marketplace, employers are being more cautious than ever. They can afford to be. So, if you find yourself slipping into that dark place in the job search process, just stop and recalibrate. Selling yourself with more fervor is probably not going to solve your problem. You must become what I call a helpful candidate that focuses on meeting the needs of the prospective employer. Help the recruiter or the employer connect the dots between their needs and your accomplishments. Be positive. Be focused.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it really is. That flip in perspective, that change in attitude, can make all the difference. I have more to offer on this point, so if you need help, email me.

Third, searching for a job in this economy is not a lazy person’s place to be. Intense competition means candidates have to work twice as hard to differentiate themselves from other applicants than they did five years ago. And yet if you talk to recruiters, most will say that the resumes they receive are mediocre, probably the same ones that were submitted in two or three dozen other job searches. A lot of candidates do not do their research, and they are not prepared for the interviews. Some are as bad as a political candidate who sticks to the same stump speech regardless of the audience. Stop. Pay attention. Become a helpful candidate. Consider this: In the first stage of the search process, it is mostly adversarial. Recruiters or employers are trying to get their candidate pool down to a manageable number of candidates. No one can interview 60 or 75 candidates for every job. So take pains to tailor your resume to address the client’s needs. The resume is your first interview. Make it count.  Once you make the cut, the process becomes more hopeful, that is to say, recruiters want several of the candidates to break from the pack. They are hopeful that the candidates they have selected to present will be stellar. So help the recruiter by being prepared.

You should also be prepared with a list of references that will help the recruiter or employer see that your skills and accomplishments align perfectly with their needs. This is where some otherwise good candidates drop the ball. They do not go to the trouble to develop references that can speak to the needs of the employer. Go the distance. Be sure you have an array of references that speak to your portfolio of talents and successes.

This is all very hard work, and very few candidates land a new position the first time out of the gate.

So be prepared to go through 5 or 6 searches before you get the answer you have been wanting for: the YES.

Be positive, be prepared, be helpful and stay focused.


That is it for this week. I hope this information has been helpful because we are here to help you with your career.

Remember, great leadership is built on a foundation of trust. Without truth, there can be no trust.