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Search firms do more than just provide a list of names

John L. Baker

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 6, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

I have been in the executive search business for the past eight years and currently run the life sciences practice for one of the largest retained search firms, DHR International, headquartered in Chicago. I reside in Coralville and have my office in Coralville Center. My wife and I moved here from Boston more than a year ago.

Prior to joining the executive search industry, I spent most of my career in the health-care industry, where I held executive-level positions with Hewlett Packard Medical Products Group and Quest Diagnostics, two multi-billion dollar corporations.

As a leader in these companies, I had responsibility for hiring and firing people, leading reorganizations and being part of reorganizations. I, furthermore, used search firms to find top talent.

From my broad view of business, there are several advantages in using search firms to find key talent. I am not here to defend one of my firm's major competitors, but more importantly to defend the search industry as a whole. I would like to provide those who may not understand the significant value in using a search firm and an appropriate search consultant for specific needs with perspective on the industry.

Successful searching

There are several thousands of successful searches completed by retained search firms every day. Companies have grown their businesses exponentially as a result of the appropriate talent found and brought on board by a search firm. The cost of doing such turns out to be a drop in the bucket. Similarly, not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions have grown because the appropriate individuals have been recruited.

A true partnership between the hiring organization and the search firm is critical in achieving a successful outcome. Furthermore, a process defined at the commencement of a search is important.

The majority of search firms when involved in a partnership/client relationship will most likely interview internal candidates, candidates recommended by the client from their network in addition to the candidates the search firm has presented to the client. It is incumbent upon the search firm to ensure it has agreement from the client to such a partnership. In the end, the search firm wants to find the best candidate for the role and having a diverse pool from multiple sources tends to lead to a successful outcome.

More than a list of names

Search firms provide the expertise and services well beyond simply finding candidates. They have the skills and experience to ensure candidates presented to their clients have been evaluated based upon an extensive and exhaustive process that provides the consultant with the appropriate information to make an assessment. It is important for the search consultant to spend quality time with each member of the search committee to understand their specific needs and meet with other influencers to the decision process.

It is important for the consultant to sit down with the entire committee, including board members, to share the insights from the internal discussions to ensure everything is on the table and there is agreement on what the search firm is looking for in terms of skills, background, personal characteristics, style, etc.

In addition, search firms conduct extensive reference checking before and after candidates have been presented. They also help to negotiate the final compensation package. Of equal importance, is that the search consultant acts as a confidant for the candidates and the client and can share appropriate information that may be sensitive to both parties.

Throughout the search process, search firms share research findings and market information as to what they are finding in the marketplace including comments from candidates and sources about their client.

The client can help the search firm address some of these sensitive objections or use the information to work on improving image or addressing a common theme.

Search short comings

It is unfortunate that Katherine Tachau, the co-vice chair of the University of Iowa's presidential search committee, said she has not had a good experience with search firms and that she thinks they are "generally are not particularly helpful."

I know my colleagues in the search industry would be happy to share hundreds of references from delighted clients who have had exceptional experiences. The reason we get repeat business is because we strive to delight our customers just as most successful companies do in any industry.

The search process is a partnership that typically leads to very successful outcomes. The talented people in the search industry take pride in their work and enjoy helping their clients find the talent that will improve, change, grow and ultimately lead their organizations to a better place.
Coralville resident John L. Baker is the executive vice president and global life sciences practice leader for DHR International.