Partnering with an executive search firm helps organizations explore outside their networks to find capable, dedicated leaders. Instead of managing recruitment efforts, staff can focus on work that directly supports the institutional mission while a trained team leads the search process. To make the most of this arrangement, it’s critical for organizations to foster a productive working relationship with their executive search firm.
Over two decades and hundreds of searches, our Executive Search practice has learned what it takes to elevate this important partnership. A successful partnership ultimately means the right new leader driving results at your organization. For nonprofits embarking on their next search, we’ve compiled four ways to get the best return on their executive search relationship.
Understand the difference between executive search and contingent recruiters.
While executive search firms collaborate with clients through every step of the search process, the typical contingent recruiter’s work is finished after presenting a slate of candidates. It’s helpful to think of a contingent recruiter as a vendor and an executive search firm as a partner in recruitment. Instead of a transactional relationship, executive search firms develop close ties with each client, providing regular updates on the search status and checking in to make sure expectations are met.
The in-depth methods of executive search usually translate into a longer process and higher cost. Unlike contingent recruiters, executive search firms don’t simply present candidates from a predetermined pool. Instead, they conduct original research for each search, looking for potential candidates outside of their databases who fit the position criteria and mesh with the organizational culture. The best person for the job may not be actively looking, so the executive search team will work to identify and recruit them. This takes time, but finding the ideal candidate for a leadership role is a pursuit worth doing right.
Ensure leadership has a clear vision for the position.
Before retaining an executive search firm, organizational leaders responsible for hiring the new position should have a firm idea of the role’s responsibilities and compensation. While executive search consultants can help clarify the finer points of the position, they need an understanding of the job’s bold print to be successful. Without the salary range and major duties defined, it’s nearly impossible to find the right person for the position. Executive search consultants don’t want to advance a candidate who expects a $250,000 salary when their client can only afford $150,000 for the role. Likewise, without understanding the job responsibilities, consultants may present someone with deep experience in corporate giving when the organization needs individual giving expertise. Making these important decisions at the outset allows executive search firms to proceed with confidence and clarity.
Develop a level of trust with your executive search partners.
Executive search consultants strive to quickly immerse themselves in each organization to find strong candidates who will be a good cultural fit. Clients can facilitate this process by asking questions, sharing organizations they admire, and even suggesting people of interest. Establishing this mutual trust eliminates the need for either side to micromanage the relationship. More importantly, it translates into a smoother and more fruitful search process.
Keep the lines of communication open.
When organizations hire an executive search firm, they make a significant investment in finding their next standout leader. Although competing priorities will always emerge, it’s important for nonprofits to follow through on their investment by remaining responsive to their executive search consultants. Hiring talented leaders takes active engagement throughout what can be a long process, and gaps between steps can cause candidates to withdraw or accept a competing offer. Clients can prevent these unwelcome outcomes by readily answering questions, approving materials, and making time for candidate interviews. The search process works best if it smoothly progresses from one stage to the next.
Most of all, remember that recruiting an organizational leader requires partnership—working in concert with executive search consultants to find a candidate who will thrive and grow in their new role.