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Here's Why Specialization Is Crucial When Hiring A Retained Search Firm

Christian Spletzer - September 3, 2019

Here's the truth: a retained search firm will always be a good option if you're looking to hire an executive for your company. Just as important is which retained search firm you choose.

You don't want to hire the first search firm that comes recommended to you. Just because a search firm was a good fit for your colleague, doesn't necessarily mean they're a good fit for you. Picture it this way: if you've got knee pain then you don't want to talk to any doctor out there, you want a specialist. Just like doctors, specialization is key when deciding on what firm to work with.

It pays to partner with a firm that specializes in placing candidates based on your ideal criteria for an executive hire, be it industry, seniority, or any other criteria you may have. The reason being that they are better qualified to find you the best possible candidate for that role.

The 5 Areas That A Firm Can Specialize In

Defining the criteria for the characteristics of your search upfront helps identify who you're looking for and where to find them. The areas that a retained search firm can specialize in include:

  • Seniority
  • Department
  • Industry
  • Company Size &  Stage
  • Location

Think of these criteria as a guideline. The more specific your criteria, the more clarity a firm will have when following this guideline. Depending on the role you're looking to hire, this will also affect what firm you work with and what they should specialize in.

Specialized Firms Will Do A Better Job At Pitching The Opportunity To Candidates

Finding your perfect candidate is a dynamic, challenging task. Recruiters don’t only need to identify that candidate; they also need to sell him or her on the role you’re looking to fill. They need to present them everything that's attractive about the role while simultaneously being able to determine if the candidate is a good fit for said role.

With a better understanding of your criteria, the recruiter can better explain the job scope and evaluate a list of candidates to single out the best ones. Furthermore, they will be able to present the opportunity in greater detail given the knowledge that they possess.

Specialized Firms Can Better Navigate The Search Project

How the recruiter navigates the interim period between identifying a quality candidate and that candidate’s commitment to your company will go a long way in determining whether you land that person.

To this end, you’ll need a recruiter who possesses a working knowledge of your specific area of interest so they're able to speak intelligently about your offering. If they don’t know what they’re talking about, it will be evident, and it will discourage both you and the candidate.

Specialized Firms Can Spot Opportunities That Others Cannot

If your recruiter is knowledgeable about a particular area, not only will they be able to sell candidates more effectively, but they’ll also be able to spot opportunities that others—including firms who do not specialize—won't be able to.

They’ll know which companies are running out of funding, for example, and when might be the most impactful time to get on the phone and pitch a departing employee on your exciting new role.

Specialized Firms Can Distinguish Between A Good And Bad Candidate

The role you're hiring for likely requires skills and characteristics that are unique to the role and to your company. Your recruiter must be able to identify what those skills are and must be well equipped to determine which candidates fit that mold versus those who don't.

Recruiters with specialized experience are far more likely to have the capacity to execute that search.

This result is something I know from experience. Early on in my career as an executive recruiter, I was hired to find a controller for a $4 billion public semiconductor company. I knew little about finance or semiconductors. I was out of my depth—and it showed. That search could have gone much more smoothly if I had been a specialist in the industry, or if the company had hired someone else who was.

Where To Start Looking For The Right Retained Search Firm

It can be difficult finding a recruiter who specializes in your industry. Furthermore, if you want to find the best recruiter you have to know where to look. What makes the process even trickier is that just because a firm says they specialize, doesn’t necessarily mean their specialization aligns with the role you're hiring.

That’s exactly why my team and I developed the Clockwork Network. The Clockwork Network catalogues and analyzes the performance data from thousands of search projects across hundreds of retained search firms to help you identify which firms outperform the others for your specific kind of search.

Let's say you're in need of a VP of Marketing for your e-commerce company in New York that does $50 million in revenue. Through our custom analysis, we can aggregate for you the firms that exactly match that criteria. From there, we can identify the Outperformers and make an introduction.

Essentially, we're taking the guesswork out of executive search.

Christian Spletzer

Christian Spletzer

After years of working as an executive recruiter, Christian Spletzer founded Clockwork to improve how search firms and clients work together on retained search projects. He designed Clockwork to help recruiters demonstrate their consultative value to their clients at every stage of each project.

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