Executive Search Trends: 2016 and beyond

We are almost half way through 2016 so we thought we should assess emerging trends in the executive search industry, and in particular, what they mean for companies and candidates. 

The dynamics of executive search constantly evolve as companies look further than ordinary CV-based recruitment. The rapidly changing global economic stage has led to quick adaptations in the search industry, including leveraging new opportunities using social media and technology. Although some trends may hold true across all levels and forms of recruitment, executive search differentiates itself in a few key ways.

We acknowledge that candidates at this level are afforded the privilege of being handled confidentially and preferentially – with an element of career advisory not found in other forms of recruitment.  Secondly, and perhaps obviously, it focuses on quality rather than quantity – it’s about being strategic and smart rather than gathering a shortlist from a large pool of available or unemployed candidates. So what are some trends to be cognizant of moving from 2016 to 2017?

1.    Treating candidates as brands

In the age of social media and having a constantly accessible public face, individuals are required to uphold a personal brand. One is no longer assessed solely based on how one appears on paper but reputation, presentation and previous successes play an important role in assessment. Individuals with universal skills will not only have a higher chance of fitting into the organisational culture, but will more likely be able to externally represent the company in a positive way, form strong connections with potential partners and in so doing, help move the company forward. Successful company brands lead to increased profits – the same applies for personal brands. In executive search it is crucial to ensure that the experience of a candidate meets the role requirements, but the task of ensuring an appropriate culture fit is equally important.  As our private lives become increasingly more public, personal brands will continue to grow in importance for executive appointments.

2.    Social media is now a gold-mine for executive hiring (not sourcing)

Previously, Social Media was considered risky as it divulged too much or the wrong type of information about a person. Stakeholders and job seekers were discouraged from building an online presence for the fear that damaging information could be leaked to a potential employer. More recently, individuals are constructing detailed, appropriate images of themselves for all to see. As our personal and professional lives merge, it becomes less about secrecy and more about full (appropriate) transparency in a way that can aid job search.LinkedIn, as one’s online CV, does more to create a thorough representation of oneself than a “print” CV ever could, from networks to opinions, referee comments and thought leadership.

In addition to primary research, Social Media helps executive search consultants find, analyze and vet candidates before they are even contacted, saving time and financial resources.On this note, it is important to recognize that a lot of potentially successful candidates’ resumes do not accurately represent their skills and knowledge, and we naturally need to look beyond the paper to peer referrals, online papers and presentations and company successes. A poor LinkedIn profile is conversely often damaging.

3.    Increased consideration of boomerangs.   

The higher up one goes on the corporate ladder, the greater the risks are of a poor hire. Some companies prefer the devil they know, especially if that individual has a deep understanding of culture, industry and organizational hurdles. A completely new face at top-level management comes with its own advantages but is often a huge risk if they are not a good fit. In a recent poll, 51% of participants said they would consider returning to a previous employer and a further 29% said they have actually done so. With the increasing popularity of networking events, company alumni are likely to reconnect and strike a deal to work together again. Virtual alumni events are already popular, with recruiters gathering information through “in-person events” for re-establishing bonds and possible re-hires.  And we all know the power of networking within our own peer group.

4.    Greater dependence on technology and smart data.

Our clients are focusing heavily on using big data and analytics to create more in depth talent-metrics for potential candidates. Operational metrics such as time-to-hire, cost-per-hire and source-of-hire remain relevant but more intelligent means of measuring ROI will be implemented by companies. By using more detailed measures of potential success, companies can also establish the best training methods as well as motivational cues and competencies.

In conjunction with this, many organizations are shifting their talent acquisition strategies to become more aligned with globalization as well as wider business strategies.HR technology will become more sophisticated as the business world shrinks and greater accessibility to international candidates becomes commonplace. Applicant tracking systems, video interviewing and apps to facilitate application processes, will soon become the new norm.While these systems will certainly make the whole process more efficient, executive search firms remain aware of those who prefer more traditional methods of connection and communication and above all, maintain the personalized, confidential approach to executive recruitment that is the cornerstone of executive search.   

In our experience one of the key criteria in the selection of the executive search firm is their research ability.  A team of inexpensive and inexperienced graduates is no longer sufficient for the challenging projects awarded to a search firm.  A successful result is built on a foundation of excellent research, a professional, mature headhunting approach and a strong technical understanding of the requirements of the role.

5.    Graduate recruiting for future executive positions.

As mentioned in one of our previous articles, identifying young talent and investing in the growth and education of young recruits will become a fundamental HR and business strategy. With the Millennial generation who have a strong ambition and desire to learn, entering the work force, organizations can create a sustainable pipeline of high potential managerial talent. Age diversity will not be the only feature – women, minorities and international candidates are a strong focus of our clients’ executive recruitment strategies. Locating diverse talent is by far our clients’ key priority as is it ours – a challenge that is rarely met by using traditional recruitment methods.  These individuals are not necessarily “on the market” looking for new jobs.

Predicted industry growth will see these trends manifest themselves at an exponential rate. Executive Search firms need to stay relevant and up to date, not just with clients and candidates but with their varying expectations, desires and experiences. With decreasing loyalty it is up to companies and search firms to broker flexible deals that suit all parties and provide mutual benefit that promotes longevity of the professional relationship between all parties and above all, a strong return on their investment.


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This article was written by Sarah Mason, Social Media Strategist at Business Essentials for Executive Headlines