The meeting with his boss was a shock. What a 55-year-old Chief Operating Officer thought was a routine weekly update meeting would be his last with the company. He was informed “the organization wanted to go in another direction.” He was being terminated. They would provide a severance package including benefits, a year’s salary and outplacement assistance.
He should not have been surprised. His boss, the Chief Executive Officer, had been talking more and more about how everyone needed to step up their performance game, that the company could not tolerate just “best effort.” They needed people who understood the new realities of healthcare delivery.
That aside, as he left the building with his box of personal belongings, he felt that all would be OK. After, he had a year. After a break, he would land a job and move on with the last 10 years of his career.
Possibly, but there are no guarantees, even for top performers moving into the final phase of their careers. Twelve months sounds like a long time, and it will probably make his spouse take the news a little better, but truth be told it probably will take this executive longer than 12 months to find a job.
In his first outplacement meeting our now unemployed executive became increasingly frustrated with the advice he was provided. To say there was major league pushback would be an understatement. At one point, in a flash of anger, he barked, “I have been managing my career for 25 years and doing a pretty good job of it. I am not going to change now.”
That statement was the career suicide equivalent of a pulmonary patient with diabetes arrogantly ignoring his physician’s pleas to stop smoking or he would be dead within two years while puffing on a cigarette and eating a box of chocolates.
In the case of our unprepared executive, the chances of landing an equivalent job in another city within the year were poor. Of course there is always luck, but research is fairly conclusive on the subject: luck is not a very effective career management strategy.
In this case the candidate’s career management “to do” list was not going to provide much time for his wife’s long list of projects she wanted done around the house or her desire for that trip to Europe they had always talked about. Her husband was years behind the job search curve.
The outplacement counselor asked me to speak to his client, that maybe a recruiter could help him realize that the job search market had undergone a radical change. Here is the plan of attack I suggested.
At JohnGSelf + Partners, we work for healthcare clients but we take time to help people navigate the rapidly changing career transition market.
© 2015 John Gregory Self
NEW YORK — This is an important subject as far as I am concerned. There is always something special in writing about the hand that feeds.
Search firms play an important role in the talent acquisition process. That said, they certainly do not dominate in terms of the numbers of executive or management jobs filled each year — only about 35 percent of the total number of those positions. The balance is made up of employer hires using personal contacts or internal talent acquisition resources. I think most people would be surprised at how many top job recruitments never reach the open market.
The other thing about search firms is that they tend to irritate job seekers, either because the candidate is not qualified and is quickly shunted aside with little or no explanation, or they rarely return unsolicited networking calls. They have among the worst communications records of any of the service industries, at least that is the common perception as evidenced by this veteran outplacement consultant’s comment:
“If I had a buck for every time one of my clients complained about the awful, crappy communications, primarily during and particularly after the search [when they no longer need the candidate] I would have a little nicer retirement. I think it is a reflection of bad habits rather than some sort of character flaw,” she added.
So, it is not surprising that recurring predictions about the demise of executive search firms will not be a serious loss for a lot of people. Some of the scorned are actively advancing a market theory that goes like this:
Technological advances, including the formation of increasingly sophisticated algorithms in the tture will be able to select candidates with far greater accuracy and efficiency than any so-called search consultant who probably does not possess any deep insight into the client and is really, at the end of the day, more concerned with earning their fee.
This all begs the question, what is the future of recruiting firms?
I think you have to assess the risk based on the type of search firm you are talking about.
First, these new technological developments will not produce the end of recruiting firms in the near future. The initial impact of these new algorithms will be felt in enterprise recruiting programs by beefing up — improving — the computerized screening process. There are currently some good programs on the market but there is still much work to be done in the area of automated screening.
In terms of the specific impact on recruiting firms, I believe improved “artificial intelligence” in the area of candidate assessment/selection will first disrupt the business of contingency firms — those that get paid only if they place a candidate and typically work on searches for lower level executives and managers. LinkedIn has been a game changer in this segment and there is no logical explanation why computerized candidate selection formulas will not further have its greatest impact, at least initially, on these types of recruiters.
The impact on retained firms, those recruiters who work exclusively on C-suite and mission-critical executive positions, will not be as significant over the short to mid term. There is simply no mathematical formula that can apply the nuanced judgment so critical in recommending these types of leadership candidates to clients.
The real short term threat to executive recruiting firms, such as it is, is that with continued formation of larger health systems you will see more of this type of recruiting work move to inside recruiters. Some of this is based on a cost consideration, a belief, frequently unrealized, that by having internal executive recruiters, money can be saved. However, there is a darker reason that search firms do not want to admit. It is almost as if they are content to accept death by a thousand cuts.
The truth is that this “internalization” of executive recruitment is often driven by a frustration that executive recruiting has become nothing more than a transactional process that offers no real value. Too many of the elite search firms have become order takers and fulfillment specialists, not the trusted advisors they should be.
One large health system quickly built an internal recruitment process when a well known national firm, which had done dozens of searches for the organization, recruited away a key executive for another client. With that transaction, the trust was broken, and over the next five years, that system conducted more than 50 internal executive searches. That one “transaction” cost that national firm more than $6 million in revenue. The problem is that even when firms behave ethically, the process is still more about order fulfillment than solving a problem or adding value.
In the end, algorithms are about transactions. Search firms are here to stay as long as they find a way to control costs and add real value for their clients.
© 2015 John Gregory Self
Q: I just attended a conference. A career consultant who was one of the session speakers, strongly suggested we all create a standard cover letter to send with our resume? What are your thoughts?
A: Unless specifically asked to include a cover letter, I would not waste the time. Most executive recruiters, whether in-house or associated with a firm, face a lot of competition for their time. When you submit a resume, the first person to review your document is either a researcher, or one of the dreaded computer screening devices. They spend, on average, about 15 to 30 seconds quickly determining whether you meet a minimum threshold for consideration. If your resume does not reflect their targeted skills or experience, you will not be considered regardless of how clever your cover letter may be. Unless you are selected for screening, most search firm partners won’t even see your resume. It may not seem fair, but it is just a matter of time management.
© 2015 John Gregory Self