Executive hires should not be ‘hit or miss’

Aug. 1, 2005
Professional recruiter makes argument for retaining an executive search firm

Professional recruiter makes argument for retaining an executive search firm

Tom Zay Jr.

Two emerging oilfield services companies, each with their sights set on boosting revenues, announce plans to add service dimensions to their operations. As a result, both are now faced with looking for an executive to lead these new business units.

One company posts some ads, gets its hands on a few resumes, conducts interviews from a short list of candidates, and ultimately offers the job to someone who appears to be the right fit.

The other company takes a different track. It begins discussions with an executive search professional several months prior to the launch of its new service unit, during which time the search professional learns the company’s strategic plan, its culture, and the chemistry of its workplace.

Once the search is formally launched, the search professional creates a search plan and pursues a disciplined, proactive process that systematically leads to the identification of qualified candidates. A due diligence process ensues with the search consultant personally interviewing the most promising prospects.

The search professional interviews the candidate’s former colleagues, supervisors, customers, and other contacts to create a complete assessment for presentation to the hiring company. After a review of this assessment and interviews of the slate presented, the client selects a finalist candidate, an offer is made, and the position is filled.

Based on these two scenarios, which company is more likely to hire a compatible match with its current organization and management team? Which new hire is going to experience a shorter learning curve? And where is the possibility of turnover greater?

While fictitious, this scenario is a routine occurrence in the oil and gas business, just as it is in most industries.

Too often, companies justify a C-level hire by rationalizing the candidate “just happened to come available.” The individual may be technically competent on paper, but competencies aside, the hire is admittedly a shot in the dark which, if unsuccessful, can lead to a disruption in business, a drop in productivity, and most of all - workplace turmoil.

Perception versus reality

For most executives in the energy industry, their perception of retained executive search is based on their personal experience with the process. More than likely, at one point in their career they were contacted by an aggressive “head hunter” whose mission was to get a job filled as quickly as possible. When they learn their colleagues were called for the same job, suddenly the process becomes perceived as a search for a commodity.

Another factor that has shaped the perception of retained executive search is the energy industry’s long-standing “we-grow-our-own” mentality.

Fortunately, the perception of retained executive search is slowly starting to turn. Energy companies are becoming more sophisticated in their selection of C-level executives, more often out of necessity than choice. Not only are management candidates becoming more scarce as the workforce ages, those providing financial backing to today’s oil and gas companies are coming to the table with significantly higher levels of expectation from senior executives

Disciplined approach needed

As demonstrated in the earlier example, retained executive search professionals incorporate proven methodologies designed to find a lasting management solution, not simply to identify a match of technical competencies.

Phase one of a comprehensive search process, strategy development, involves a consultant’s up-front research to determine a company’s culture and vision. Where is the company heading? Where will it be in five years? And what is its strategic plan?

During this phase, the search consultant also develops a position profile, a document that details where the company is today and the situation that created the need for a search. The development of search strategies, including the identification of target industries and sectors, also takes place in this initial phase.

Phase two of a search, candidate identification and assessment, involves the preliminary research to develop an initial candidate list. Potential candidates are assessed via telephone and in-person interview. Preliminary reference checks are also conducted.

Next, confidential candidate assessment reports are prepared for each qualified candidate. More than a biography, the candidate assessment describes the individual’s career progression, provides a critical review of the key decisions made during his or her work history and most importantly, analyzes the candidate’s fit with the position.

The second phase of a comprehensive search concludes with the search professional presenting recommended candidates to the client and assisting with the interview process.

In the third and final phase, search completion and follow-up, the retained executive search professional consults with the hiring company to review candidates and assist in the selection process and development of a compensation package. Guidance is provided to both the candidate and company when an offer is made with ongoing follow-up to ensure both parties are satisfied.

The right search partner

Working with a retained executive search firm requires good chemistry, compatibility, and a confidence that your consultant understands the strategic direction of your business. More than a search expert, the executive recruiter should be a professional who understands your business and the key trends and issues the industry faces.

Make sure the individual selling the retained executive search service will be the consultant working on your company’s search.

Above all, plan ahead. Don’t wait to call a retained executive search firm as a “last resort.” Remember, the best time to initiate a relationship with a retained executive search firm is well before you have a critical position to fill.

Finding the right candidate to fill a C-level position is never an easy task. The days of energy companies growing their own talent are rapidly coming to end. And that’s leaving energy firms exploring other options to attract the talent they need for today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges. OGFJ

The author

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Tom Zay Jr. [[email protected]] is a managing director with the Houston office of Boyden, a global retained executive search firm.