In addition to looking at the challenges facing both executive search and leadership consulting firms and their clients, we surveyed 2,500 executive-level candidates to understand their experience with executive search advisors and learn about opportunities for improvement.

candidate_survey_results_executive_search_positivesThe individual risk associated with making a career move is significant and extends beyond an executive’s own career management goals. There are personal and professional reasons for wanting reassurance that the executive search firm the candidate is working with can be trusted. Three traits that clients need in order to trust an executive search firm are professionalism, confidentiality and objectivity. So how does that compare to executive-level candidates?

We asked candidates who had been successfully placed by an executive search firm for the elements of the search process that they felt were successful and those that could be improved. The areas that are most valued when the process works best are quite similar to the areas identified for improvement.  No doubt about it – candidates value open, honest communication and trust.  They also seek straight forward feedback and more help in the onboarding process. 

This gives us an idea of the areas that are most important to candidates during an executive search. In addition to having a trusting relationship with the executive search firm, candidates expect firms to have an understanding of their clients’ culture and needs, and to be open and communicative throughout the process.

The best executive search firms know that building strong trusting relationships with candidates is critical to the search process – especially during the assessment and negotiation stages. The executive search consultant needs to develop a trusting relationship with both candidate_survey_results_executive_search_negativesthe client and the candidates in order to ensure a positive outcome, especially at the critical final stage of negotiation. This trusting relationship helps ensure that the candidate who the client wants to hire ultimately says “yes.” The trusting relationship is important both for the successful candidate and the others.  Why?  Those who aren’t successful will remember how they were treated. The executive search consultant is an extension of the client – a partner – and the way they treat candidates sends a powerful message about the executive search firm and the client.  Of course today’s unsuccessful candidate could be tomorrow’s successful candidate and even tomorrow’s client.  Treating people with respect throughout the process just makes good business sense.

Candidates had mixed views about the use of assessments. Increasingly executive search consultants are using a range of assessment methodologies – psychometric testing, cultural assessment, structured interviews, and predictive analytics, to name a few – to get more specific about a candidates’ professional and personal suitability for the role. Yet over half of the comments we received from candidates indicated dissatisfaction.  This can range from distrust of methodologies to intimidation about the results.  Some even feel “they have reached a point in their career where this isn’t needed.” 

There is clearly an opportunity to present assessment as a win-win process.  Candidates don’t want to accept a position where they won’t succeed and the more senior they are, the more this is true.  The risk of accepting a new leadership position is every bit as great for the candidate as for the client (if not more so).   A strong approach to assessment helps to ensure that the candidate will thrive.    We suspect candidates are uncomfortable with what can be a “black box” approach to assessment and see sharing honest feedback as a best practice.

Read the full article on Executive Talent 2020, a special edition of AESC's quarterly e-magazine.


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