My executive search journey

Article By
Carl Hinett
Carl Hinett
Posted On7th June 2022
Posted On7th June 2022

I started my executive search career 16 years ago and traditionally I’ve always focused on HR recruitment. The dictionary definition of recruitment is ‘the process of finding people to work for a company or become a member of an organisation’. Executive search is a specialised recruitment service to seek out and recruit highly qualified candidates for senior-level and executive jobs.

For me, it’s about so much more than that.

Every brief is different and over the last 18 months, there have been a number of external market conditions that have turned everyone’s world upside down, presenting us with the most challenging and bizarre market I have ever encountered.

Someone once told me there is a home for everyone, and it is so true, a person can be brilliant in one company, but not so good in another and that is down to the different Cultures. Culture fit is a phrase that gets banded around all the time and it’s a minefield when trying to get it right. I see lots of blogs and posts talking about culture fit and finding the right person for the right role, but what does it actually mean? In my opinion, you need to really get under the skin of a business and determine what good looks like, what really drives the business and what goals they have long term. You then need to understand the team dynamics, the personalities involved and any gaps they have (tools like insights and the GC index are great for this). This approach enables me to really understand the kind of person that they need and ensure that I can deliver.

After years of recruiting HR roles, I was approached by one of my clients, (CPO, Hospitality Business) who needed to recruit an MD into the business and asked for my help, we had worked together previously in the HR space and got on well, this was the start of my journey into wider executive search. Although I’d never recruited this kind of role before, he was confident in my style “I realised that this is a little outside of their usual sweet spot, but knew that they would hit the mark quickly, and they did.” Taking the brief and hearing what would be needed from someone to be successful in the role, was exciting and got me thinking I wanted to do more of this type of search. I found it really interesting and engaging, so started asking our clients if we could help. You can see more about this case study here.

Since that time, as a business we have placed a number of senior exec roles:
  • Managing Director – UK’s fastest-growing privately-owned hospitality company
  • Director of Customer Experience – Private Equity backed Manufacturing Business
  • Director of Business Services – Multibillion turnover FTSE100
  • IT Director – Engineering business
  • Head of Procurement & Supply Chain – Engineering business
  • Head of Operational Excellence – Global Listed Pharmaceutical business
  • Head of Professional Services – Leading Russell Group University
  • Regional COO – Privately Owned Hotel and Restaurant chain
  • Group Property Director – UK wide retail business
  • Operations Director – Care business
  • Finance Director – Waste management company
  • Head of Change – Large multisite retail business
  • HR Director – B2B wholesale business, 12k employees UK wide
  • Head of Internal Communications – UK Pharmacy Company

I still love our bread-and-butter senior HR roles but enjoy doing a variety of wider executive search and it also helps our clients who like working with us as we understand their business and can move quickly.

Recruiting senior roles

I’ve been recruiting senior roles for too many years to remember and found that once you hit a certain level it’s less about what the candidate does and more about how they do it. Generally speaking, you don’t get to director level without being good at the job. Obviously, I’m not saying that the technical aspect of a role is non-existent at this level, I just feel that to be successful in an executive position, you have to be the best, it’s as simple as that.

When taking a brief, discussing the technicalities and deliverables of a role is a given. Understanding how a business needs the job done is the tough thing to decipher and sometimes even tougher to measure. It is paramount at this point that we understand the long-term vision of the organisation, appointing execs is always a business-critical process and requires a business to know their own culture and exactly what type of person they are looking for.

To deliver on this, I have to quickly build relationships with prospective candidates. Getting to know someone in an interview process is key, constantly assessing on both a professional and personal level, to really understand their character and personality traits and if they will get the best out of the team and fulfill the business’s objectives. This approach enables us to shortlist quickly and effectively. In the current market, long processes will almost certainly ‘kill a deal’ as people are getting multiple approaches and offers at any one time.

Why use us for your senior exec work?

When you are recruiting for different roles in different industries, clearly you can’t be an expert in all of them. Clients come to us when they have a difficult brief. It might be a new role in the business, it might not be fully defined, they may have compressed timelines, or the situation might be sensitive or confidential. I have asked many of my clients in the past – why do you use re:find? Their response is that they enjoy working with us and find our shortlists refreshing. We provide a full market map of relevant talent in the market and focus the search on people that I think will fit the business and will fulfill the role to the best of its potential, not just people from the same sector. We never advertise roles. I feel that this ensures we only find the very best out there and it also fits perfectly with our clients who need us to be as discreet as possible. Once we find the right candidates and have vetted them, we can arrange an NDA to be signed to ensure that the role and the situation is kept confidential. We ensure candidate care throughout the whole recruitment process and into the onboarding process with you, which helps to make the transition smooth and the new appointment quickly get settled into their new role.

It also helps that we’re approachable, easy to work with, but with a robust back-end process to enable us to find that niche best talent.

The value that we add

As a business, we help our clients to grow. We understand what’s going on in the business and what they really need. Getting the right hire allows our clients to push forward with their business goals.

There isn’t any red tape or bureaucracy when you deal with us – we make the decisions, and we work with you to ensure we have the best working relationship possible. We’re nimble and flexible, allowing us to offer the best possible service to our clients and make a success of the work we do together.

What challenges we face

The main challenge for me, is learning the intricacies of a business, to make sure that you get the right person for that specific role in that specific business. Every business is different – it has its own culture and values and goals and there’s always lots to learn and understand. This is where relationships come into play, because the better you know your clients and their business, the better you can do your job.

There are many other challenges to contend with including competition – top execs are in high demand and can have many offers on the table, so you need to be able to negotiate this successfully. A high majority of senior candidates are passive – they are not actively looking, but surprisingly 97% of senior candidates in a company want to be ‘found’ or ‘approached’ by headhunters for relevant roles, so you do have to work hard to find them and attract them to move.

It takes a long time to get up to exec level, which means there are far less candidates than for entry or mid-level roles. A survey last year from Invenias (a recruitment software platform) said that 77% of executive search professionals’ top challenge was going to be talent shortages. 

Add to that a worldwide pandemic and the executive search market over the last 18 months has been even more challenging. Because the climate has been so uncertain people have been wary of moving from a stable position, so even if you do find the hard-to-find people that are a great culture fit for the business, you can’t always get them into the process. Things do seem to be picking up now so this challenge shouldn’t affect us going forward. The market has definitely shifted to a candidate driven market and businesses now have to move quickly with both processes and offers, as candidates are now getting multiple offers and are naturally drawn to a business that makes them feel valued.

What I have learnt from my journey

My journey over the last few years from focusing on senior HR appointments, moving into my general executive search has been challenging, but incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. My clients have become friends and a strong relationship means we make a great team professionally.

I have learnt that I don’t need to be an expert in a particular industry to still do a great job at appointing a senior executive.

I have found that actively listening, being curious and really understanding the size, scope and vision of business allows me to be clear and honest with potential candidates. I like to think of re:find as an extension of our clients business and want them to feel we are all working together. By using my transferable skills in executive search, relationship building and understanding people and businesses, I am able to find the right people and do a great job for my clients.

Carl Hinett is our Director & Executive Search Specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch

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