The Outperformers

A blog to help you find retained search firms who outperform the rest.

How to Set a Search Strategy With an Executive Search Firm

Christian Spletzer - May 2, 2019

There are certain practical rules of executive recruiting every great recruiter takes to heart. Chief among them is collaborating with you, as the client, to define (and refine) a sound search strategy at the outset of the project.

Quality retained search firms abide by a set process. Key to that process is establishing a strategy. And that’s where the collaboration begins. Your recruiter should work with you to define:

  1. What you consider a “good” candidate for the specific role you need to fill;
  2. What will be required of this role; and
  3. Which relevant companies the recruiter should or should not target in their research.

These are the type of firms you should seek out. Executive recruiters who operate as collaborative consultants are more likely to complete a search more efficiently and effectively.

Your role in collaborating with a search firm is primarily to provide the answers.

You should be prepared to come to the table at the start of your search with an understanding that your participation is paramount in helping your recruiter steer the search in a strategic direction. Reaching a shared understanding of your goals and affirming a certain alignment around strategy upfront will ultimately go a long way toward guaranteeing a successful outcome.

That means you need to have a solid idea of what exactly you want from the new hire for your key role: who they’re going to be reporting to, what the demands of the role are going to be, and who they’ll be managing. Then, you should be prepared to relay that information to your recruiter.

If you’re not prepared with those details and can only provide vague direction to your recruiter like, “I just need a CFO,” or, “I just need a sales director,” you most likely won’t get you the type of results you’re expecting—and need for a key hire. 

Be as specific as possible.

You need to be very specific in answering your recruiter’s questions. This includes establishing certain binary criteria: Does your desired person have a VP title? Yes or no? Do they have experience at one of these 20 companies that we can’t recruit from? Yes or no? Try to provide or affirm objective criteria like, “We want to look at COOs, VPs, and SVPs in operations at these 20 SaaS companies, and these people need to be already located in the San Francisco Bay Area, preferably in the East Bay." Those are very clear instructions that allow the recruiting team to go and do their job in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The firm will lead this discovery process, but you should understand that your participation and collaboration is key to the search’s success. It will allow you both to agree on the direction you’re taking for the search, which will guarantee greater focus and eradicate potential confusion along the way.

If you don’t work with your recruiter on strategy, you’re essentially just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

This is something I’ve experienced firsthand on the other side of the table, as a recruiter. A search strategy which doesn’t prioritize or demand collaboration is entirely untenable for mission-critical rolesthe kind of key roles you’re likely hoping to fill by partnering with a retained search firm.

It only benefits you to demand that the firms you partner with appreciate the importance of collaborating with you on your key projects. And after spending years as an executive recruiter, I believe that a firm that does not work closely with you in the strategy-setting stage of a search is not approaching the work correctly.

A collaborative process is something you should vet for when looking for a firm to work with. Ask the firm to define their process. Do they use a search strategy? If so, how do they set it? Do they develop a target list of companies? How do they measure a “good” profile from a “bad” profile? What's the process of establishing what “good” looks like?

Doing this will help you determine if the firm in question operates in a consultative capacity, which is crucial if you want a seamless, successful hire.

And if you don’t have the time to do this kind of vetting yourself? That’s something the Clockwork Network can help with. In fact, only retained firms who prove themselves to be collaborative in their search process are allowed into the Clockwork Network. It’s one of the key commonalities among successful search firms.

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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