Professional candidate management becoming a more critical factor for success
Dieter Albeck, Managing Partner, and Elisabeth Wissler, Partner, of InterSearch Germany spoke at the 3rd specialist HR conference of the Frankfurt Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The focus of interest was current challenges in the executive search business against the background of markets that are tightening and candidates that are becoming more critical. The following interview was conducted after the event.
Mr. Albeck, you talked about “markets that are tightening”. What developments are foreseeable in the case of executive search projects?
Albeck: The pool of potential executive candidates will get smaller. In particular, the segment of mid-level executives with 10 to 15 years of professional experience will be affected. On the one hand, that can be attributed to demographic trends, but also to the generation change that is taking place in the industrial and business sectors. Companies are making a stronger effort and strengthening the bonds between executives and themselves; the motivation of qualified candidates to make a change is dwindling. That in turn increases the time and effort required for search projects, because more intensive persuasion efforts have to be made to induce a person to switch companies. And neutral contact persons with the corresponding professionalism often have a better change of persuading a top candidate in such situations.
Ms. Wissler, you have many years of experience with career consulting for executives. How are candidates reacting to the development that Mr. Albeck has described?
Wissler: They have noticed that the market is shifting from an employers’ market to an employees’ market. Candidates want companies to put more effort into “wooing” them. At the same time, we have observed that candidates are becoming more and more critical.
More critical with regard to what? Can you give some examples?
Wissler: Many candidates are being approached more and more often and at ever shorter intervals by more and more personnel consultants. The impression that sort of continuous confrontation with offers to make a change makes on candidates is one of seeming arbitrariness. Whereby a change of job is and will remain a significant life event for the majority of candidates. Admittedly, the average number of employers in the professional life of an employee has increased, but a change is still highly important for each individual person.
What aspects do candidates react more sensitively to than they did a few years ago?
Wissler: Today candidates expect speedy processes and clear communication on the part of the personnel consultant, including regular status reports. If the process takes too long or if they are not kept up to date, quite possibly they may lose interest during the interim period or accept another offer.
In your opinion, what will the future success of executive search projects depend on?
Wissler: On the one hand, on professional candidate management. For us that means: absolutely accurate research in the run-up phase before contact is made and exploitation of all useful search channels, contacting potential candidates and provision of information carried out exclusively by experienced professionals. And as was already mentioned, a speedy process including regular status reports – even for the candidates that are not shortlisted for the final selection.
Albeck: In addition, in my opinion the reputation of an executive search consulting firm will become a more important aspect, for it presents itself as the representative of the client’s company in the market: Candidates draw conclusions about the client from the service provider it selected: regarding its corporate culture, its quality standards and the perceived value of the vacant position within the company. The executive search consultant becomes part of the employer branding activities of his client.
In your presentation, you repeatedly mentioned a lack of transparency in personnel consulting activities vis-à-vis the client. What does that mean?
Albeck: Up to now companies have usually assessed personnel consultants on the basis of the placement ratio, perhaps also on the basis of the speed of placement. We are acting on the assumption that those key performance figures are no longer enough against the background of markets that are tightening and candidates that are becoming more critical. That is because every contact with a potential candidate leaves a lasting impression in the market – irrespective of whether it is an initial contact by the researcher or an interview with a consultant. The crucial aspect in this context is quality, not quantity. At the moment, companies can only exert indirect influence on that: through their selection of the executive search consulting firm.
Do you have any ideas about what might create transparency in that area?
Albeck: In other service sectors, customers are asked whether they were satisfied with the service provided. Why should that method not be used in the executive search business as well? In this context, it would be especially important to request feedback from candidates who were contacted and possibly presented, but ultimately not hired. Most of the candidates would initially be surprised, but they would have positive memories of the client and would undoubtedly want to enter into discussions with the company again the next time a suitable vacancy turned up.
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