The Evolving Executive Search Industry

Andy Miller, President and CEO at BrainWorks, Examines the Changing Nature of the Recruiting Sector

Andy Miller founded BrainWorks in 1991 and currently serves as president & CEO. Mr. Miller has led the consumer products practice for BrainWorks for two decades. He has also been the driving force behind the company’s Talent Acquisition Profile and Talent Evaluation Process.

In the following article, Mr. Miller takes his 30-plus year business experience to offer leadership lessons for executive recruiters, clients, and candidates as we turn the corner into 2021.

I’ve had the benefit of being in this business for the last 30 years, from the days of name gathering and networking with crude tools like phonebooks and the Rolodex to ever more sophisticated developments in ATS,ERP/CRM, social media marketing, SEO/SER, communications tools, e-mail and LinkedIn marketing techniques and more. If we can scrape data, aggregate it, code it, analyze it and evolve with it perhaps, just perhaps, leads will find us faster, we will find candidates faster, we will provide higher quality talent to our clients and more.

Predictive software and analysis will succeed in some and perhaps many regards over the next decade in solving for soft skills and the nuanced differences that separate those that have the experience and education to those who don’t.

The capacity to extend and command thought leadership beyond traditional media publications and conferences through the myriad of content and aggregation platforms allows leaders who have something to say to quickly reach thousands where reaching dozens historically was considered more relevant.

There has been, is, and will continue to be extensive disruption and displacement as the continued reach toward the trifecta of quality, speed and results continues to be augmented and accelerated by technology and innovation.

Learning the Business

Between the increasing reliance on helpful and unhelpful evolutions in technology and the physical disruption created by COVID, the kind of mentoring and learning that has been essential in the business is often being lost. Senior partner and superstar are often separated from emerging recruiting talent by address or by the needs of social distancing at the cost of transferring elements of knowledge that historically have occurred as a result of proximity and intention. Executive recruiting firms that are intentional about mentoring, ongoing learning and connect will outpace their peers as a chasm between those that are able to transmit accumulated knowledge and those that do not expands.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Remarkably, it has become increasingly self-evident that the best companies, the best brands, and the most rounded performers in our space have an increasingly functional understanding of the critical role diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging play in productivity, achievement, morale, and operating results. There remains a degree of misunderstanding that somehow in the aggregate DEI efforts are a zero-sum game where those who have benefited from inequity lose and those who have been impacted by inequity gain. Because diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging drives productivity, morale and operating results, the outcome for companies who embrace DEI programming and integrate it into their activities will be an expansion of opportunity for all, not a replacement of one group with another. The industry has trended and will continue to trend in favor of those who are able to demonstrate a track record of work with diverse candidates and the advantages of thought leadership that arises from a diverse array of talent.

Sales Acumen

At the top of this writing, I offered some preliminary thoughts on shortcuts, hacks and evolutions. Anyone who has sustained in this field over a decade thinks about how to make the process better, faster, more replicable, more reliable. In the endless pursuit of technologies and system to accelerate results, the core emphasis on the value of sales acumen can take a back seat more frequently than perhaps is helpful. So, let’s bring emphasis to this acumen for a moment and embrace the idea that selling begins at the first objection and that our differentiated sales and recruiting acumen is what differentiates strong contributors from top performers. The gold standard is a recruiting relationship that deepens into a consultative and collaborative relationship among partners who think through national and divisional roll out strategies and team with their search firms to create optimal job specs and exclusive shared process to create results. We hear countless of our colleagues define themselves as collaborative and consultative. However, those relationships are earned through successful execution after successful execution and require a first execution. To earn the right to execute a first search, eliciting objections and then overcoming them is bedrock and successful recruiters will not only pursue the evolutions of the business, but also study the masters that taught us all how to overcome spoken and unspoken objections. This skill set is the precursor to the benefits we can share and receive as trusted partners of our long-standing clients.

The Remote Work Environment

This was referenced tangentially in an earlier part of the article, when we discussed the potential loss of mentoring relationships resulting from either social distancing and/or remote work. The changes of our remote or distant work environments have further reaching implications. I’ve espoused the philosophy for decades that its essential for the entire team to work in one or a few central locations and hubs to ensure brand quality and consistency for many of the reasons that I’ve discussed here already. BrainWorks started hiring employees to work remotely in the year prior to COVID-19 and since has embraced the shift to remote that has become all but necessary in certain locales. With an intention to lead the team, to connect and to care, it remains possible to lead a highly motivated team at the same level of excellence, in a different way than we were all accustomed to for so many years.

Winning in a Softer Market

It’s a little early to predict a softer market in 2021. In fact, the surge of activity in the third and fourth quarter of 2020 suggests that the opposite could be true. With talks of additional stimulus in late 2020 and early 2021, it’s possible that we could return to the pre-COVID surge of executive recruiting activity in 4Q 2019 and 1Q 2020. That said, let’s explore in the alternative what might happen in a softer market. Imagine for a moment that the market is 25 percent slower than we’ve become accustomed to in prior years. For many of us, there was a tenacity that highlighted our early rise in the industry. Our results were born of integrity and of course at the heart of that integrity is the word “grit” which went on to be the subject of Angela Duckworth’s 2016 book.

While we consult and collaborate, while we continue to be the trusted partners and advisors to our peers and clients, we may need to get just a bit more gritty in 2021 and return to some of the practices that made us all great in the first place.

If it turns out instead that we face the level of surge in activity that we experienced in 1Q and 4Q 2020, let’s do the best of all of it. Let’s continue to integrate the best technology has to offer, maintain our intention to teach this craft to the next generations, be the trusted partners and advisors our clients rely on for differentiated talent and let’s return the joy, tenacity, caring, and grit that made us great in the first place.

Regardless of what comes to pass, in addition to safety, health and vitality, I wish all of us in this extraordinary industry, all of our clients, all the candidates we place and all of our peers, employees and friends, the most successful year yet in 2021.

Find Talent