To Search or to Find?

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 11.35.59.png
Unlike in London, the headhunting industry in Oxford is populated by a small number of niche firms, and perhaps because of this, there is often some confusion as to the difference between a search assignment and a recruitment exercise. 

One analogy that can be useful when making that distinction is to view potential candidates as being within a pool or pond. With a search exercise, the headhunter hand picks the candidates who are in the pond for that specific role only, from which the shortlist is chosen. In a recruitment exercise, the pond is full of candidates who are ‘on the market’ and may have registered their details with one or often a variety of agencies/job boards. The recruiter selects the best possible shortlist from that pool of available talent only. 

Benefits of using ‘search’:

-Ability to target a specific set of skills and experience
-The search can include talking to potential candidates who are based UK wide and internationally
-Identifying and talking to appropriate ‘sources’ helps to qualify candidates at the first stage
-Targeting individuals who are not on the market
-Your headhunter can clearly and professionally discuss the opportunity to potential candidates

Search is the only method most senior level candidates will engage with The search process is undoubtedly the norm at the senior end of the market; at director and board level. At this level, individuals will be expecting to be ‘headhunted’ for their next move and are very unlikely to be on the open market unless they have been made redundant. It is also at this senior level where the impact of a successful hire will be felt more keenly by an organisation in terms of growth, profitability, creation of new markets etc. Getting the right person is the top priority and making a mistake has serious consequences.

So what actually is the process of search? It is a thorough, methodical and proactive process of approaching people directly for a potential role. It involves many hours of internet research, telephone conversations, and meetings. Successful headhunters are well networked; they shortlist candidates on the basis of thorough and painstaking research and often with an element of ‘gut instinct’. 

Clients new to search often fear that the process is more expensive and lengthy. In fact, when it comes to fees and timeline, search can be surprisingly similar to a recruitment exercise. Typical recruitment agency fees are 15-25% of the first year’s salary, usually on the basis of a contingent assignment. Search fees can be anywhere between 20-30%. Because of the time investment necessary in a search assignment, most fees are split between a proportion up front, and the remainder on completion. An agency may be able to send in a shortlist of ‘ready’ candidates in as little as a few hours or days, but waiting 2-4 weeks for a headhunter will produce a vastly superior shortlist. 

Oxfordshire has the advantage of a strong international profile particularly through the University, automotive and life sciences networks. With many of Oxfordshire’s businesses reliant on international markets, being able to source top talent with overseas experience can be vital. The data below was collated earlier this year from a cross-section of Oxfordshire’s businesses, and clearly shows the wide geographic profile of our current Board leaders.

The recruitment climate has undergone plenty of changes over the last couple of decades. When I started out in the mid 90’s the country was coming out of a recession, however, fortunes changed quickly and by the end of the 90’s the ‘war for talent’ had become frenzied. The market was ‘candidate driven’ and clients had to work hard to attract the top talent. The top of the recruitment bubble came in the form of the new ‘dotcoms’; high fliers left the safety of the corporate world in exchange for the excitement of embryonic but well-funded ventures. Suddenly the bubble burst. The last decade has been tough for recruiters; market confidence has been low, consolidation has occurred in most industries, and the economy challenging. The market shifted towards being client driven.

One exception to the general trend has been with director and Board level appointments. Just as with the property market where the ‘trophy’ houses continue to change hands regardless of short-term economic factors, the same is true with business leaders. It comes down to supply and demand; the relatively small pool of proven and successful business leaders are even more hotly fought over when conditions are tough.

Market conditions are now returning to more familiar times with confidence increasing and companies hiring. The market will turn back to being candidate driven and that means employers now need to shake off any complacency about their ability to attract the best people.