The Anatomy of a Search

Jul 29, 2004

This is a reality article series. Over the next few weeks, I’ll document an actual retained search we’ve just received for a VP of operations for a $300 million medical services company. Our goal is to start presenting candidates within two weeks. Throughout these articles, I’ll review every step of the search ó how we beat out the competition, how we found great candidates, and how we closed the deal. Hiring one great person is tough enough. Systematizing the process is how you make hiring top talent a business process. At the end of this real search, we’ll use some of the lessons learned to show how to scale up this process throughout an organization. Here are the basic steps involved in just about any search. The few upfront steps pertain to third-party recruiters, but even corporate recruiters might find ideas on how to deal with their hiring manager clients and their outside recruiters. Step 1: Get invited to participate (completed). We’re a small search firm located in Southern California and have NEVER done a search in this field of health care. However, I wrote an article a few years ago on how to assess executive talent. As a result of this article, I had a chance to present these ideas to a CEO forum in 2003. As a result of this talk, the CEO of the company asked us to help evaluate his hiring processes. This in turn led to us proposing to handle the search for his future #2 person. The lesson: Differentiate your marketing. Don’t market just your search practice. Market your hiring expertise and take every opportunity to present your ideas to decision-makers. Step 2: Demonstrate competency (completed). When we learned that this company was looking for a VP of operations, we suggested that we prepare a performance profile. A performance profile gives the hiring manager real insight into what a person needs to accomplish and how it needs to be done. During the process of preparing the performance profile, we then demonstrated how to use the one-question interview to assess candidate competency and motivation for the job. As a result of this, it was very clear to the CEO that we knew the job and what it took to achieve success. Remember that we had NO EXPERIENCE in this type of search. However, we did have extensive experience in breaking work into its component parts and understanding what it takes to accomplish complex tasks. The process of preparing a performance profile convinced the CEO that we were different from the other search firms we were competing against, even though they had far more industry expertise. Lesson: You must understand the job and be recognized as an expert in your field. The performance profiling process I’ve been writing about on these pages for years ó plus the one-question interview ó was all the proof needed. Step 3: Beat the competition and negotiate the fee (completed). Things now started to get sticky. For one, our fees are the highest in the industry. For another, we had never done this type of search. While we have completed many searches at this level, the CEO was concerned that we didn’t have a network of candidates, and he couldn’t understand why he should pay 25% to 30% more than the competition for our services. Certainly our knowledge of the job as demonstrated in Step 2 helped get us to the table, but now we were in new territory. On the experience side, I indicated that with new Internet searching tools, including online databases (like AIRS Oxygen and Eliyon), and the ability to purchase competitive intelligence, we are able to identify potential candidates within days. The need for a network is far less important now ó if you know how to identify potential candidates, contact them professionally, and then network and recruit these people. We were experts at this, and the fact that we train other recruiters to do this helped our cause. However, the fee issue was still a sore point. The CEO couldn’t understand why our fee was so high, and the fact that we wanted to be paid before we delivered candidates. While we didn’t reduce our fee, we did agree to adjust the payment schedule based on the presentation of qualified candidates. This clinched the deal, along with our one-year guarantee. Lesson: Base fees on results, not on the competition. Provide a solution rather than assume your search activity is just a transaction. Step 4: Prepare the job description (completed). We started this during the presentation phase. By using a performance profile to determine what the person in the role needed to accomplish, rather than what the person must have, we changed the nature of the assessment process. We will update the performance profile and work with the hiring team to prioritize the performance objectives. At the same time, we’ll show the team how to use a performance-based interview to assess competency. This ensures that all of the people involved in the hiring process are using the same criteria to evaluate candidates and that they are reasonably competent at it. This step allows us to minimize the “moving job spec” problem and also increases the chance that good candidates won’t be excluded because one of the interviewers doesn’t know how to interview. Lesson: Leave as little to chance as you can. You don’t have to time to do searches over again. Step 5: Prepare the candidate profile (to be done). A candidate profile describes the background of the ideal candidate and lists potential companies, organizations, associations and groups the person could belong to. From this, we’ll build a sourcing and networking plan. Once we know who knows the candidate, we’re well on our way to finding the person. Step 6: Develop and implement sourcing plan (to be done). We’ll use a multi-step sourcing plan to find the candidates. This will consist of targeted compelling advertising, the use of Internet data mining tools like AIRS Oxygen and Eliyon, and the purchase of competitive intelligence, in combination with an aggressive referral and networking program. Once we identify 50 or so potential candidates, we’ll begin the recruiting and networking process in earnest. When recruiting this way, not only who you call but what you say is very critical. In upcoming articles, I’ll describe this process in more detail. To make our job even more challenging, we’re planning to use a researcher who has never recruited before. We have a very capable person in mind who we can train to do this in a few days. This should be a fun part of this reality article, so stay tuned. Step 7: Process candidates for recruiter (to be done). Once we have some candidates identified, we’ll begin the recruiting and interviewing process. This should start within a week or so from the kickoff meeting. Step 8: Present candidates to client (to be done). Our presentation will be formal. It will consist of the candidate’s resume, a formal assessment write-up using our 10-factor candidate assessment form, and a short write-up which the candidate will prepare describing his or her two most relevant accomplishments. We’ll also prep the candidate a little on how to handle the actual interview. Step 9: Assessment and selection of final candidates (to be done). We’ll be more involved than most firms at this stage. More than likely, we’ll lead one panel interview with the hiring team and each final candidate. At the end of the interviewing process, we’ll lead the candidate debriefing session. During this session, we’ll assess each candidate on the ten factors on the assessment form. Each interviewer will be required to substantiate his or her ratings with actual examples of relevant accomplishments, not gut feelings. This insures balance across all of the criteria. Interviewers tend to globalize strengths or weaknesses, so ensuring objectivity across all job factors is a critical piece of the final evaluation. Step 10: Negotiate the offer and overcome concerns (to be done). The actual negotiation will be described and how we handled the major concerns. This is always a critical aspect of any recruiting process. The challenges I think we’ll be facing include a less-than-ideal location and a comp package that might be a bit on the low side. Offsetting this is a legitimate chance to become the COO in a few years for a company that has significant upside. More on this later. Step 11: After offer acceptance (to be done). It’s not over until it’s over. We use a very formal on-boarding process which consists of a series of meetings and a formal review of the performance profile with the hiring manager and new employee. We want to use the on-boarding process to clarify job expectations, get the candidate quickly up to speed, and minimize the chance of counteroffers or competitive offers. Over the next week, we’ll finalize the job description, prepare the candidate profile and then develop and begin implementing the sourcing program. I’m sure we’ll hit some bumps along the way, but that’s reality. We’ll probably all learn a lesson or two along the way. Stay involved with us on this. Submit any of your own ideas as the story unfolds. It should be an interesting summer. [Note: Next Friday, August 6th, at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET, we’ll be conducting a free online semi-sourcing course. If you’ve read my sourcing article and submitted your response, you’ve already received login instructions and your secret word. There’s still a chance to attend. If you don’t know the secret word, there are hints on the login page. If you want to learn about new recruiting techniques to find more top candidates, you should attend this course.]

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