The Anatomy of a Search, Part 3

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This is the third week of our search for a VP Operations for an East Coast healthcare organization. We’re now heavily into the sourcing, networking, and candidate presentation process. This article describes in detail the semi-sourcing and networking phase of the recruiting. Before we get to that, a recap is in order. Here are the steps involved in a search of this level. Step 1: Get invited to participate. As a small retained search firm in Southern California, we needed to do a lot of marketing to get asked to conduct executive-level retained searches on the other side of the country in a specialty where we had no expertise. We differentiated ourselves as experts in the search process, rather than as niche players. Everyone can do this. Market your expertise and take every opportunity to present your ideas to decision-makers. The CEO heard about us through a presentation I made on how to hire top executives. Step 2: Demonstrate competency. When we learned that this company was looking for a VP Operations, we prepared a performance profile defining what needed to be accomplished. As a result of this, it was very clear to the CEO that we knew the job and what it took to achieve success in it. In this way, we demonstrated our expertise before signing the contract. By proving ourselves this way, we were put on the short list of search firms invited to compete for the assignment. Step 3: Beat the competition and negotiate the fee. Using a few online databases (AIRS Oxygen, SearchExpo and Eliyon) we put together lists of potential candidates. We presented these as proof that the Internet has leveled the playing field with respect to identifying passive candidates. Since we train recruiters how to qualify and network with these candidates, it was easy for us demonstrate “instant industry experience.” While we didn’t reduce our fee, we did demonstrate that our payment process was based on delivering strong candidates. Steps 4,5 and 6a: Develop and implement the sourcing plan. We used semi-sourcing techniques to build the candidate pool. We now have ten screened candidates in the pool. We’ll narrow this down to about four to five finalists. Semi-sourcing is the concept that there are outstanding employed candidates ready to be found who are neither active nor passive: they’re semi-active or semi-passive. To reach semi-active candidates, you need compelling, highly visible targeted advertising. Top people who are casually looking can often be enticed to apply with this type of advertising effort. Semi-passive candidates are pre-qualified candidates who are open to taking your phone call. The pre-qualification is a critical piece. You don’t have time to call anyone who isn’t a top person ó he or she must be either perfect for the job or directly know someone who is. These semi-passive candidates are found through aggressive networking, where you pre-qualify every name you receive as a potential lead. So far, we have found about three outstanding people through our “VP Operations ? Fast Track to COO” ad placed on Another four very strong passive candidates were found using the database tools noted above. The remaining three were found by networking with a few of the best people found through the databases. Based on these results, we won’t need to purchase competitive intelligence. This is where we are now in the search. Our next step is to conduct more aggressive networking. We are somewhat concerned that the pool is a little too rich on the comp side, so we want to find a few more candidates one level down to see if they could be possibilities. Step 6b: Proactively network. While the databases (AIRS Oxygen, Eliyon, SearchExpo) are all useful tools, a recruiter never has time to call everyone on the lists. That’s why we suggest recruiters quickly call as many passive people as possible (20 to 30) in a few hours and separate these people into two levels. Level 1 is comprised of “A” people who could either be a candidate themselves or would personally know someone who is. Level 2 comprises those who are not “A” caliber people themselves, so obviously they wouldn’t be good candidates. This group is not worth getting referrals from either, since they probably don’t know any “A” candidates. Here’s an article I wrote on these types of proactive networking techniques. The key to successful networking is to ask the person you’re calling if they’d be open to exploring a superior opportunity. Most say yes. Don’t tell the person about the job yet though. Instead, obtain a quick profile of the person. End the call quickly if the person isn’t an “A.” Your goal is to network only with the “A”-level people. If the person is an “A” and qualified for the job, give the person a quick overview of the job. Then arrange another call to review the person’s background in depth. If the person is an “A,” but too strong or too light for the job, your goal is to get some names from this person of other “A” people who are directly qualified. You do this by asking for the name of the best person the candidate has ever worked for who could handle the job. (I guarantee this person is not looking.) A tip: Top people will quickly give you these names from prior companies if you ask. Then network with and recruit these referrals. If you restrict your networking only to top people, you’ll be able to find a perfectly qualified and interested top person for your open position in a few hours. In two days, you’ll have three to four great people. The key to great networking is to pre-qualify everyone before you call, maintain your leverage during the call, and then proactively push for other “A”-level names. Steps 7 and 8: Interview, assess, and present. Once we have some candidates identified, we’ll begin the recruiting and interviewing process. We’re now doing this using our standard one-question interview and 10-factor candidate assessment template. (Despite what other apparent pseudo-pundits say, it’s more accurate than any other interviewing system available today.) 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: Assess and select final candidates. 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 also lead the candidate debriefing session. This will ensure that facts, not feelings, are the basis for the final selection decision. Step 10: Negotiate the offer and overcome concerns. 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: Post-offer acceptance. 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, to get the candidate quickly up to speed, and to minimize the chance of counteroffers or competitive offers. That’s all there is to hiring top people. As you can see, hiring one top person is not easy. It takes a great job, a great hiring manager, and an extensive recruiting effort using all of the latest tools available. Systematizing this type of effort across an organization is even more challenging. Once we’re done with this search, we’ll use some of the lessons learned to show how “best practices” can be scaled throughout a company. Some hints on where we’re headed here include job branding, more use of targeted and compelling recruitment advertising, reducing recruiter workloads to manageable levels, and implementation of a proactive networking effort leveraging the employee referral program. If you want to get a jump start on this, get a small group together to figure out how you’re going to meet your company’s hiring needs three to six months down the road. You’ll never be able to implement any of these ideas if you’re already behind.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).