To Recruit or to Search?
To Recruit or to Search? Dominic Thatcher, Director at ThatcherMacKenzie, unravels the difference between recruitment and executive search consultancy.
In the eyes of the wider business community, the recruitment industry tends to suffer from a general misconception – i.e. we are all recruitment agencies. This could not be further from the truth. Within the industry you will find two forms of recruitment business; the recruitment agency and the search consultancy.
A recruitment agency is typically a volume driven business reacting to the needs of a client company. Those recruitment agencies which act on behalf of junior members of staff or secretarial placements are very unlikely to act proactively on behalf of the candidate. The function of a recruitment agency is to match the candidate with vacancy available. If there is no vacancy available the candidate will have to wait until one becomes so.
Recruitment agencies are there to provide a reactive service to the client company. As such many are included in preferred supplier agreements in order to provide that service to the client when an opportunity becomes available.
So what is a search consultancy and how should this be distinguished from a recruitment agency? In short, a search consultancy has two functions.
The first is where it is presented with a mandate, be it retained or contingent to source a particular type of skill set for the client company. A search consultant will look for the very best candidate "in the market" not on the market. Candidates are "on the market" because they have some form of dissatisfaction with their current employer. In time that dissatisfaction leads to a loss of motivation. Those individuals who regularly read the “situations vacant” are, ultimately, unhappy with their current situation. Does a business really want to recruit the disaffected or do they want the talent that is happy and motivated in their current role? The talent that has no reason to leave is the calibre of candidate every business craves.
The search consultant will spend time researching the market place and identifying the right candidate for the mandate, selling the opportunity and company to the candidate and then managing the entire recruitment process from introduction to the client through to offer, acceptance and post offer matters.
The second function is to proactively create an opportunity for the candidate. More often than not when a candidate engages a search consultant, the consultant will not have an active career opportunity but, through their knowledge of their clients, the search consultant can introduce the candidate to a relevant organisation and create a business case for that candidate.
This ability takes years of experience – of getting to know the client, its culture and raison d'etre. Only then can a search consultant decide which organisation will be relevant for the candidate, and only after the search consultant has conducted an extensive interview process with this candidate.
Search will deliver candidates that will have strategic value to an organisation. It will uncover candidates largely unknown to the client but also those candidates that are known personally to the client but unaware of their professional aspirations - search facilitates this.
To categorise search consultancy and recruitment agency as the same business is wrong. Both provide a valuable service to the client company but the methodologies are entirely different. Search allows an organisation to identify and pre-empt a skill set that will have strategic value and can prevent the time and cost involved with reactive recruitment.
Search is by no means an easy option; far from it. It requires time, patience and in-depth knowledge of what you are dealing with- both client and candidate. It is not a form of recruitment governed by the interview of checklists and sending the CV through to as many organisations that seem remotely relevant. It is not a form of recruitment governed by preferred supplier agreements due to its strategic value.
It requires the search consultant to select a relevant organisation and make the business case to both parties as to why they should be working together.
Ultimately a search consultancy is a valuable business partner to the client, the company and its human resources team. It is a partnership and if treated as such will yield results that will only benefit the client company in the longer term.