by Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner and CEO.
We are strategically expanding and hiring Executive Recruiters at GM Ryan International and a GM Ryan sister company called rise44. Like many of our clients, part of our interview process is to compel a serious candidate why GM Ryan is the best career vehicle and what we have to offer to someone who wants to be a professional Executive Recruiter. An even bigger part of our process is to illuminate what it is and what it isn’t, and to root people OUT of consideration. I’m sure that sounds counter-intuitive, but there is a massive washout rate of people who get into recruiting only to find themselves elsewhere within a year or two. The reality is it takes a year or two to build true competencies and a self-brand in the community in which one recruits. And it takes a massive amount of strategic activity. Recruiting can appear simple to most, but truly professional executive search is multifaceted and challenging and nuanced. It’s different. It takes time to build excellence.
Why do so many fail?
One, they “give it a shot”. We give sushi a shot. We give skiing a shot. We don’t give our careers a shot. Many people “try” recruiting, but do not perform significant due diligence on the front end to truly examine what they’re getting into. There are books and articles to consume. There are tens of thousands of recruiters focused on retained CXO roles to contract staffing roles, in big firms and boutiques and solo practices. A serious professional seeks out conversations with these people to round out perspective. If you’re serious, examine what you’re considering.
Two, they go to a firm without any true process or methodology. Entering a new environment without an organized structure is a recipe for disaster. The steps involved from winning the right to represent a client to qualifying opportunity criteria to approaching candidates to qualifying candidates to managing the process to offer mediation and onboarding counsel is riddled with twists and turns, and way more complicated than most would assume. Working without a methodology is death on arrival. Get trained, don’t wing it.
Three, they go to a firm with a proven methodology, but they do it their own way anyway. “I used to do it this way in software sales so this is the way I feel comfortable”. “I don’t want to be bogged down with the CRM.” This is winging it. This won’t work. A key reason to join a proven firm is to gain from established methods and apprenticeship. 100% add your voice and style, but follow the basic time-tested framework already proven out.
Why shouldn’t you go into executive search?
- No financial cushion. You will almost definitely make less income in your first year of recruiting compared to whatever you’ve been used to. Almost definitely. In fact, your first year will also be backloaded where you’ll likely earn more in your last 3-4 months than you will in your first 8-9 months. You may not make a commission check for 4-6 months. You’ll likely get back to even in your 2nd year and (if dedicated) your 3rd year could be set for unprecedented earnings for the remainder of your career. But if you can’t stomach the first-year hump, don’t do it.
- You’re not entrepreneurial. Please don’t equate so-called intra-preneunurial experiences to this, it only exposes the gap in understanding. Even if one goes to a big firm like Korn Ferry, they’ll still be building their own practice and their own personal brand in a new vocation. An attorney or financial advisor may be hired into an existing company with a great reputation, but they need to win clients and build their own practice or they’ll starve. Executive search is no different. It’s building your own business. The beauty of it is that once built and nurtured, the sky is the limit.
- “I help people find jobs all the time.” That’s not what great recruiters do. Great recruiters help build companies. Companies pay us for our ability to attract, qualify, compel, present, and help close impact performers and leaders at their companies. The by-product of helping people advance their careers is a wonderful reward, but the primary objective is to help build great companies…or you’re dealing with the wrong recruiter.
- Lots of flexibility. Yes, you can work in kid’s soccer games or school plays, go to the gym, perhaps work from home, but the great recruiters easily work 50+ hours a week (in my first year, I averaged 73). Hopefully the firm has minimum performance standards, but if one isn’t intrinsically motivated then this won’t work (see #2 above). Evening and weekend calls are necessary. Planning time off hours is necessary. Sharpening your saw via reading up on the industry you serve, reading articles on executive search, watching training videos are all necessary and conducted off hours. If you want a 9to5 gig where your paycheck is predictable every other week, don’t get into recruiting.
- “My current field is too competitive.” There are a bazillion different recruiters out there clamoring for a massive yet still finite amount of business. The best companies and investors attract the best retained recruiters who are mostly all sharp. It’s highly competitive where long-term relationships are tough to dislodge because those are the ones the great recruiters build! Even the B and C companies have many recruiting options including not using recruiters at all. Recruiting is a value sale. If you’re not providing value, it will be exposed in a hurry and a better (more dedicated or more specialized or strongly recommended) recruiter will be right there to take that client away. And if you’re not a retained recruiter, you’ll be competing with other contingent recruiters and even the client’s internal resources on every search. It’s hyper competitive.
- Lack of support at home. Apologies, but this is hard enough to gain traction and build qualitative momentum even with a strong supportive personal environment. There will be tough days, people will let you down, counted on deals will evaporate. This is your startup, and you’ll need every amount of focus and people to encourage you as you build your business. If you’re in the middle of any tough personal situation (divorce, etc.) then this isn’t the right time.
- You’re transactional. Counter to what many candidates and some hiring executives experience, the best recruiters are consultative relationship builders who genuinely understand and care about the community they serve. That’s a key point of differentiation where competence and sincerity (or lack thereof) are quickly revealed. If you’re self-aware enough to know you put yourself before others, your recruiting ‘stint’ will be short-lived.
There are so many more aspects that I could comment on through my experiential lens, but these are a few of the key reasons to avoid Executive Search as your profession. At the risk of complete contradiction, this is also an amazing business where you get to the point you’re working with colleagues who’ve become friends. It can be lucrative and incredibly rewarding. If you have an interest in what we are up to or have other ideas on the Executive Search profession, I’d love to hear from you. Make it happen!