Who you callin’ a headhunter? Executive search firms are changing talent placement in every major organization around the globe. Firm’s services don’t stop there as leadership and team development are also growing in popularity.

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Athletes have sports agents, musicians have booking managers, actors have talent agents, and C-level business people have executive search firms. Elite level performers of every industry are represented by outside firms that have their clients’ interests in mind — pursuing deals, lining up opportunities, and making connections is a whole lot easier when you have an industry insider smoothing the path and offering helpful guideposts along the way.

Executive search firms are staffing powerhouses that line up talent with openings or soon-to-be openings within corporations, educational institutions, and large non-profit organizations. Korn Ferry, for example, works with enterprise clients to match the organizational strategy or need with executive talent that can help get the company’s key milestones and growth objectives across the finish line. Korn Ferry is at the top of Forbes’ “America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms 2020 List,” and is joined by Heidrick & Struggles, Spencer Stuart, Robert Half, Diversified Search, Russell Reynolds Associates, Egon Zehnder International, Lucas Group, LinkedIn Executive Search, and Boyden.

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Via Unsplash by Saketh Garuda.

Aside from a couple slump years around economic downturns (the dotcom bubble burst and the 2007-2009 recession), executive search firm activity, revenue, and power has steadily increased over the past three decades according to trade body AESC. 

The executive search ecosystem is a dance of mutual benefits — executives are ready, available, or open to conversations around transitioning to a different organization; executive search firms have a roster of talent that they can move into interview rounds; and corporate clients can review and line up candidates that have the qualifications to make them a compelling match for the organization. Everyone wins: the executive is recruited and placed into a new position, the search firm chalks up a large retainer or commission fees (The Economist estimates the top-end to be around $500,000 to $1,000,000, but it depends on the executive’s salary and is typically around 25-33% of that), and multinational companies secure the talent needed to fill critical leadership roles.

In the same article, The Economist attributes insightful information from 50 industry insiders who ascertain that 80-90% of Fortune 250 and FTSE 100 companies use an executive search firm to obtain talent for CEO and senior level roles. Search firms are benefitting from the evolution of businesses and boardrooms as CEOs with broader skill sets are sought after, private equity buy-outs create churn, new markets emerge, and succession plans are created.

Executive search firms have also met the demands of modern business by creating leadership and senior team development programs. The 12-18 month programs for leaders act as talent incubation — customized around the client company’s industry and the role’s strategy and executive level. The goal is to help shape a dynamic professional that is ready to meet the challenges of a chief executive-role and to confidently lead the organizational vision. Team development includes building trust and collaboration, so that the unit can work effectively together to implement processes, properly utilize resources, nurture ongoing learning, and advance goals.

Executive search firms at their core still share the mission of their predecessors of sleuthing and placing the right talent at the right time. However, a globalized world presents more complex needs; therefore, the lifecycle of engagement between a client company and an executive search firm requires more services and offerings, building a holistic approach to talent placement, development, and ongoing learning. 

The year-over-year growth of executive search firms speaks to their increasing role and influence, and now in the midst of a global pandemic, they are crafting more flexible, remote leadership teams.

The New World of 2020 and Executive Search Firms

Disruption, once a term of endearment in Palo Alto circles and buzzy industry conferences, has taken on new context in meaning in 2020. Disruption is not just a new product to market, it is supply chains going off the rails, closures and shut-downs, roiling markets, and civil and social unrest. Companies face a panoply of challenges on the inside and the outside. Remote work has become an essential part of the strategic plan, keeping employees safe and well is a front and center issue, and riding out economic changes has replaced economic expansion, to name a few mountainous hurdles. In addition customers want reassurances, transparency, and substantial action.

Destabilization of industries and governing bodies has also paved the way for bullish opportunities. These opportunities are rising as companies start to feel good after April and May. Corporate hiring is on the rebound, says the New York Times, and executive positions are once again coming open as corporations shift into a new phase to match the new times. What is different now? Industries like retailers, hotels, travel, airlines, and even academia have taken a major hit; however, there are rich possibilities in information technology and life science companies. Companies are interested in the digital landscape and are seeking board members with experience in transformation initiatives.

Always the bellwether of business, consumer behavior is driving these openings says the Times. Consumer attitudes and lifestyle changes have also evolved their personal and professional habits, and this will likely continue changing over the foreseeable future. Even after a vaccine is available, many experts agree that Covid-19 has joined its viral predecessors as a pervasive constant. Corporations must helm their ships with qualified, niche leadership that can match the new changes with substance, insight, and experience. 

Enlisting an Executive Search Firm Services

Many executives and senior level officers across industries are leaving the nest for greener pastures. Maybe it was an overdue and necessary move or maybe the additional downtime earlier this year ignited inspiration. Seizing the impetus for change triggers the next step of taking action, but when you’re in talent-mode, it’s hard to find time for planning your next big move. 

The only route more effective than seeking opportunities within your own network is to use an executive search firm. Executive search firms offer services like resume-building and coaching. Another benefit is confidentiality, as firms work to secure interviews for executive candidates while protecting their current work status from inconvenient information leeks. Executive search firms, as a matter of formal process, generally assist with advocating for and mediating salary and benefits negotiations. 

Reaching out to an executive search firm to express interest includes identifying recruiters, creating a compelling cover letter and resume that will put you out front of the pack, and building helpful relationships. Online platforms, such as LinkedIn, GatedTalent, and Bluesteps are used by executive search firms to vet and select professional profiles. These platforms help with discovering job positions, enhancing your visibility, sleuthing out career intelligence, and connecting with advisors. LinkedIn also facilitates networking within a contact list, which is helpful for reaching out to colleagues.

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Via Unsplash by Greg Bulla

As an executive, thoughtfully curating and maintaining a polished digital presence that keeps you at the top of the pile is another essential part of self-representation. By creating an  information-rich LinkedIn profile (and maybe even a Twitter presence for the socially savvy and chatty), as well as a personal website, you can leave breadcrumbs to be found and engaged by not only executive search recruiters but also industry peers, mentors, and advisors who have you in mind for a role.

The internet has opened an infinite expanse of new doors and possibilities. Much of the workforce has transitioned to remote work and transient, mobilized placements. These trends have been amplified by the pandemic but are sure to keep increasing as the dynamic of work-life changes. Executives across industries will find rich opportunities in exploring beyond the limits of their current city — ready to seize new learning opportunities, work with new-to-market concepts, and transform the constraints of traditional business. 

Executive search firms will continue to play an important role as the gatekeepers, sherpas, and diplomats that facilitate leadership matchmaking nirvana and help develop rising talent. With an upswing in the market, 2020 is rebounding with interesting new ventures for organizations and executives alike. As the world turns its eyes to corporations and nonprofits to answer many of the large problems that erupted throughout the beginning of the year, it will take a concerted effort to place and empower a revitalized generation of leaders that can shift the dynamic and seize the moment.
Via Unsplash by Benjamin Child, Via Unsplash by Saketh Garuda, Via Unsplash by Greg Bulla

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