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Algorithm v. Methodology: The value of retaining an executive search firm

With the proliferation of online do-it-yourself tools and job boards, some companies have tried them out to see if they could find the perfect-fit candidate for an executive-level position. It seems like an inexpensive, easy-way-out alternative to an executive search firm, that any (even junior-level HR person) can do, right?

In this case, the easy way out is a fundamentally flawed way to conduct a search for the perfect executive candidate who will be the exact right fit for your company and culture, and who will produce the value that you expect from this high-level addition to your team.

The algorithms used by these sites to “push” you candidates are based on the keywords that you either post as an open position that you are trying to fill, or the keywords for which you search on their sites. You may get a volume of mixed bag responses from a lot of jobseekers, many of whom will have insufficient or no experience relevant to your business’ industry, and who may also have adjusted or inflated their credentials.

  • Sorting the wheat from the chaff becomes more difficult, because people can present themselves well “on paper” but turn out to be mis-qualified or inexperienced.

  • Job board algorithms are not set up to verify and vet credentials.

  • Most of the highly qualified people are not actively searching for new opportunities and will not show up on your online radar.

You are blanketing the ocean – you don’t want to invest significant time to dig through what could be hundreds of potentially unqualified candidates; you want a few highly qualified ones.

The right executive search firm acts as a personal consultant to you, understanding your culture, your business, and the performance expectations that you have for the position for which you’re hiring. The right executive search firm has a disciplined methodology, not an algorithm, for finding you the right candidates for your job.

There is a lot of “behind the scenes” work that goes into this process. It involves not only a deep dive understanding of your business, but also identifying and finding high performers, most of whom will not be currently seeking new opportunities. These potential assets to your business must be approached and sold on your company. They need to be given reasons why they should consider your opportunity.

When looking to fill an executive position, you can go to the job boards and you will see the whole forest, when you need only to focus on finding the right, specific tree. You may get lucky on an online job board. But there is a high risk of selecting someone for your competitive environment who is just “good enough,” who may turn out to be neither a lasting nor a right fit for you, while great potential candidates have not been engaged.

Engaging a new executive is a business-critical investment. As with any investment, the cheapest way out is likely not the best solution.


Stan Davis is the Founding Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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