By Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner.

I am in the conversation business – I talk with people over the phone, video calls, meal and coffees, in my office, in their office, at industry events, and other formal and informal scenarios. I really enjoy meeting new people as well as speaking with long time colleagues who’ve become friends. The long time colleagues know me, know my style, know it’s not an angle, and that I truly care about the community I serve. After 10+ years in executive search, we’ve earned a strong reputation for execution, integrity, and polish without arrogance. Still, executive recruiters in general tend to have a “credibility proof-point” to overcome with new introductions and acquaintances. Given the minimal barrier to entry for someone to say “I’m a recruiter now” and start reaching out to people, a lot of less than fully proven recruiters come and go. There are also plenty of firms, particularly contingency and staffing firms, that have a volume oriented factory line approach to business development as well as candidate development. And along the way, these transactional experiences seed an impression with the marketplace, which is often less than stellar. Executives are contacted by recruiters who may lack education, domain industry knowledge, or business acumen; they may be inarticulate or simply unprepared; they may be transactional, they may lack any system or methodology, they may be apathetic beyond that initial interaction, and they might be unethical and not worthy of your assumed trust. They might also be a fantastic resource for you.

Doesn’t matter if you’re with GM Ryan, KornFerry, a startup firm, or a variety of other firms large and small, anyone in the recruitment industry understands that the clowns taint the pros. Sadly, the majority are closer to the clown department and many wash out when the overall economic market turns south. The flip side is that the variance in professionalism and ability among recruiters provides the proven, competent pros the platform to quickly and consistently differentiate themselves from said clowns. Knowing what to do, stating what you’ll do, and executing what you’ve said you’ll do is a basic standard for performance any credible search professional must ‘own’. A hiring board or CEO wants a few key criteria met from his search partner:

  • Market exhaustion – A qualified search partner knows the industry landscape, has unique insights learned over years of experience, has access/credibility to key influences in the candidate community, and is willing to thoroughly exhaust external communication to ensure the very best prospective candidates are approached for consideration.


  • Brand ambassadorship – A hiring executive wants a positive impression of her company in the marketplace. This requires an ability to concisely articulate the values of the company and the compelling draw of the opportunity. An effective executive recruiter will interview dozens of candidates, present a small percentage of those to the client, calibrate to 2, 3 or 4 top candidates, and only 1 will be hired. A quality company wants the dozens not hired to walk away with a positive impression of the company regardless.


  • Prioritization – The CEO wants her search to be a front and center. They don’t want corners cut, but they do want efficient urgency and transparent communication about the progressive status of the search and details on the candidate pool. Transparent reporting by the search partner is key.


  • Peace of mind – The hiring CEO has a lot on his mind, this search is critical but plenty of other important priorities are going on simultaneously. Having the comfort and confidence that their search is being executed with care, competence, and appropriate pressure allows them to focus on other meaningful CEO responsibilities. They also want unique insights revealed, pros and cons, along with instinctive perspective and counsel. Trust is paramount to a successful outcome.


  • Outcome – Ultimately the CEO wants an important gap filled by infusing outside leadership talent who will have a material impact on the business. They want a superstar. They want an immediate impression and more importantly, a sustaining positive ripple affect on the company. This can be measured in multiple ways depending upon the function, company, and charter of the role (all of which should be defined BEFORE the search begins). And given the predictably unpredictable nature of human capital, they want guarantees from their search partner. All goods are perishable at some point, but an extensive 6-9- 12 month guarantee period shouldn’t be a concern for any executive recruiter who follows a qualitative process.

There are certainly other experiential preferences by hiring executives, however these are a few of the essentials. If you don’t feel good about these search partnership criteria being met, find a different search partner. Don’t work with clown recruiters. What other important criteria do you require as an executive hiring authority?