The one with the rarefied air

If accounting has it’s big 4, law has the magic circle then the firm I met with yesterday are the recruiting equivalent – what is sometimes referred to as a top-tier search firm. My objectives for the meeting were several-fold – obviously getting a job was the first, but given my ambition has a slightly longer term it was about building a relationship, understanding the levers and building their general awareness of me.

It was a very interesting and informative meeting with someone who ‘knows their onions’ had some interesting views on the market and how it feels at the moment and some very useful advice.

During our conversation we discussed several individuals with whom I’ve worked and what became clear to me was considerable intelligence was gathered and retained on people considered ‘high potential’ that may form future targets for searches. What was more interesting was the time scale over which this information was gathered and the focus on verifying information that would form the support to any shortlisting decision – we’re talking 5-10 years.

What appeared completely absent was any form of ‘social’ awareness – whether the individual was active on any form of social network, whether they contributed to any networking or forum, any blogging (micro or macro) and measurement of influence was based on delivery and reputation not on an algorithm (Klout, Kred etc)

Given their approach there are two ways to look at this (well broadly two):

1. Their approach is dated and needs to evolve

2. Their approach is valid for what they do

I’m not sure on the answer and I suppose only time will really tell but it did cause me to reflect and left me with one lingering question: the reputations and impact made online are they only made online? In other words does the impact we have “on here” really only impact those who play and in the ‘real world’ is the measure of reputation far more impactful than anyone with a high klout score would choose to acknowledge?

For my part I am going to play both sides of the fence, because in all honesty, why not?



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5 responses to “The one with the rarefied air

  1. I think the social media space is deemed too accessible to the big search firms. To justify the big fees (1/3 1/3 1/3 is an outdated model but that is another story!) they need to gather more information than is out in the market. Historically, they have always prided themselves on the levels of research they have undertook, which is still valid, but should also be supplemented to offer a wider picture of the present marketplace. Over time, senior hires will have grown up in the social media space and as such will be even easier to track. What the search firms can offer is career coaching, mentoring, and an exclusive network of clients, not just a black book of candidates.

  2. Rob, my sense it is unambiguously 2. “Their approach is valid for what they do” . As I, and I suspect they see it, contributing to and visibility in the blogosphere / tweeterscape has little correlations to success in senior executive roles, currently or in the foreseeable future. Reputation at senior exec level is based on much more tangible performance, influence and impact factors than activity on social media platforms, and the like. These seem to be the domain for social interaction, opinions, support networks, professional and interest led collaboration, and technical / experienced based advice.

  3. Hi Rob. Always and interesting experience! I have a different view again, as you might expect. Firstly, I do think that search firms are rather myopic and sometimes arrogantly so in their outlook. Shane is right – their business model is outdated and despite their opinion, it is being eroded. I also dont see them well placed to replace search revenue with coaching/consulting revenues as they lack credibility and capability to do this in a lot of cases.

    On the social side – in a way Anton is absolutely right – the social space is irrelevant to them and their customers, certainly in terms of credibility and suitability mainly because its not how current clients at that level judge senior candidates and also because they are oblivious to it. Also, I think there is a lot of truth in what you say – we live in and online bubble and certainly a lot of the “klout” has no resonance to anyone offline. You only have to talk to HR folk who are not active online about the names of people who have a big online profile and they have never heard of them.

    But it will change. However, the threat is not really about the search firms “getting with the social program” at all. Its much deeper than that and, pretty much out of their control. Someone who is, say, in their late teens/20’s now are super connected. Their “reach” to others through their “weak links” (Great recent blog post from Jason Averbook on the subject recently) as well as strong ones is huge compared to you and esp an old boy like me. As such, when these people hit their mid 30’s and are up for CXO jobs and or looking to hire CXO’s, they wont be on the phone to Kornonthekob or one of the others. They will, certainly in the first step, reach out to the network. Some CEO’s already are. With success.

    At the risk of looking like someone else I know 😉 Here is a post from me from 2009 on this very subject!

  4. Seems like you need to talk to people who are interested in YOU. If they get that bit right then you’ll likely simply volunteer info they want later down track because they helped you and had your interests at heart.

    Honestly speaking, go and get someone else to help with your search. I don’t think it’s about on or off line. It’s more about in or out of touch with ones customer.

    Good luck.

  5. I was really staggered that when I used any of the ‘magic circle’ search firms they were treated with such naive deference by senior line managers and HRDs who happilly signed off the most enormous fees without batting an eyelid. I often struggled to see where these fees were justified, particularly coming from an agency background. That said, those that performed the best did provide a properly qualified and referenced shortlist of relevant senior candidates, many of whom just wouldn’t have been found in the social media space. (I agree with you Anton that this isn’t relevant for most current senior execs) It’s only a matter of time though before that changes, however, while these firms manage to retain their air of mysterious superiority and clients are willing to pay for their perceived level of service, I can’t see them being overly troubled.

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