How to Manage the Roller Coaster Ride of Executive Search

Oct 6, 2010

I love riding roller coasters. I always have, for as long as I can remember.  When I was too short for the really scary rides, I’d put a double layer of socks in my shoes to be just a bit taller, and hopefully my head would hit the measuring bar and I would be allowed to ride. It didn’t help at all that I was a short kid. I’m sure you have similar memories, if you are also a roller coaster fan. As I grew older, and ever after I became a parent, my love for roller coasters has not diminished. I don’t mind waiting in line, and I want to ride as many different coasters across the country that I can get to.

To me, executive search is much like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, and the best rides have the biggest ups and downs. There are scary turns, moments where the ride is very shaky and rickety and downright fearful. Then, there are moments when it’s nothing but a blast. At the top of the long ride up the first hill, you can see all around. Then, sometimes, you go diving deep into a black tunnel, twisting and turning and flying fast into the unknown. A whip and a jerk and up and out of the tunnel, back into daylight you go. As the coaster makes the final turn, the bumps slow down, the speed diminishes, and the car comes to a smooth stop at the place it all began. Your heart is pumping, head a little dizzy, and ears are ringing from all the screaming. Once you get out of the cart, if the line’s not too long, you run back through the waiting area to ride it again.

While executive search is like riding a roller coaster, there are many things that can be done to minimize the ups and downs. A roller-coaster business is not nearly as much fun as a roller coaster at a theme park. I don’t think it is possible to completely eliminate the ups and downs, and, in fact, believe that a successful search consultant must find some enjoyment in the “thrill of victory,” and be able to handle, with grace, the “agony of defeat.”

I’ll break this down into two parts, both necessary ingredients for success in this business.

  1. How to endure/live with the inherent ups and downs of executive search
  2. How to minimize the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys that can often occur.

To best cope with the highs and lows, especially the lows in this business, I believe it is very important to take a big-picture view of life, and intentionally set goals and strive to live a growing life in balance. I’ve written about this in previous Fordyce Letter articles – February 2009 and August 2010.  By focusing on a strong, deep, spiritual connection, great physical health, superb interpersonal relationships, and ever improving emotional and intellectual health, one will be in an ideal position from which to enjoy the best financial results. By putting the odds in your favor, and having the daily disciplines to do the right things and create the best habits, one is most likely to be more successful than those who don’t.

Dr. Wayne Dyer has stated, “Immediate Results come from Infinite Patience.” This is another way of saying that you are the most productive when you are free of worry and fear. Worry, anxiety, stress – all symptoms of fear – are the ultimate paralyzers in this business. A paralyzed recruiter simply cannot be successful.

The bottom line, from an emotional health perspective, is to understand that the ups and downs of the daily ride of executive search are just not that big of a deal. There are much more important things in life, and all things tend to work out, one way or another. Finding peace inside as we approach our daily work is the best way to avoid the stress, frustration, anxiety, health issues, and other negative results that come from excessive worry.

Even though one may have world-class abilities to avoid stress and worry, it is still a very good idea to find ways to minimize the highs and lows of this business. A few ways that I approach this challenge are:

  • Continuous marketing for new search assignments. The classic problem in the search business is that it is hard to be marketing and recruiting at the same time. Even though this is hard, it is necessary, and personal discipline is required to make this a reality.
  • Have a well-diversified book of business and set of clients. Depending upon too few clients in an overly narrow niche is a recipe for having problems down the road. Change is always taking place in the business world, and one never knows when a great client could disappear. I’ve learned to never, ever depend upon any one client for the future.
  • If you are an office owner, hiring several recruiters provides the ability to have a large number of searches going on at any one given time. This is a great way to minimize the risk of being crushed by a specific search assignment going badly.
  • When you have slow days, as will happen from time-to-time, challenge yourself to go back to marketing, even more than you had planned. Get to the point that you recognize a slow day as a unique opportunity to grow your business in new areas, areas that you wouldn’t have a chance to reach if you stayed busy.

From my perspective, in spite of continued high levels of unemployment, the recruiting market is certainly heating up, and my office is having a very good year. We have ups and downs, and I know that we always will.  I like celebrating the “ups” and am the first to be excited when a search goes well. It’s great to enjoy the win-win-win of this business. The client wins when he/she hires a new employee, the candidate wins when landing a great new position, and my team and I win when we are successful with an important search assignment.

My team and I are also always working on ways to remain worry-free and approach the “downs” of this business with grace and without over-analyzing or dwelling in regret. We also work relentlessly to broaden our client base, improve in our recruiting capabilities, and continue to strengthen our business in ways to minimize the up and down nature of this great profession.

Now, I’m excited about my next trip to see and experience some of the biggest, baddest roller coasters in the country. I look forward to any suggestions.

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