CEO Recruitment: Taking your Skills to the Top

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CEO RecruitmentRecruitment has been survival of the fittest for the last few years and as agency recruiters, we still have to dig deep for inventive ways of outshining our competitors.  Fee pressure remains downwards.  Added to that, employers’ savvy use of referrals, social media, and efficient corporate recruitment has eroded some of our more traditional ways of agency recruitment.

So how do we increase billings without trying to find yet more job orders when our interview to placement ratio is the worst ever?  Move on up. Look for the bigger fees, the Board level roles, the CEO roles.

Is It Viable?

When we dived headlong into recession, most recruiters had to adapt quickly to survive. Headhunters accustomed to top dollar retained contracts were forced to accept contingency assignments at mid-management level and not even exclusives at that.  As we all know, we’re far from in the clear yet but the retained assignment is making a comeback.

CEO recruitment is undoubtedly a ‘live’ market. In excess of 100 CEOs per month quit their jobs in the last few months so somebody’s got to fill those gaps. Why not you? Let’s take a reality check here though. Take away the vacancies filled internally, via ‘friends of friends’ and the dreaded preferred suppliers and competition is fierce.

It might not represent a viable stand alone business yet but breaking into the echelons of CEO search will ultimately add depth and profit to your desk and company. Don’t forget, recruiting for a CEO is almost always on a retained basis, bringing with it the kudos of cash up front.

Not everyone can recruit CEOs, nor should they try. But if you’re interested, here are a few things to consider.

  • How to Start: Apply the same principles to recruiting a CEO as you would for middle management vacancies. It sounds obvious but start from where you are, don’t rush headlong into a new market, gain credibility first.
  • Stick to the Basics: Plan your day.  Nothing beats speaking to a real live person rather than reeling off countless e-mails that end up in ‘spam’. Use the telephone effectively, with targeted sales calls, recruit calls, follow ups. Success in a new market is predominantly candidate driven.  Find your candidates – you’ll have them already perhaps as client companies in your applicant database. Draw up a list of target companies. Start with your clients, as they may have a glaring vacancy for a CEO but assume you don’t recruit at that level. Well, now you do!
  • Separate Yourself from the Competition: Be a consultant, not simply a recruiter. Research your market place, read the business news, unearth that elusive nugget of industry gossip or information about the competition that proves invaluable. Let them know you’re connected and best placed to find a solution to their problem.  Perception is everything in CEO recruitment. You have to network and make friends in high places.
  • Industry Niche: Think vertical market and global niche.  International corporations don’t limit their talent search to one country so why should you? Don’t stress too much about your niche at this stage, it will develop naturally.
  • Social Media: Use social media effectively to complement, not replace, your existing sales tools.  Keep your LinkedIn profile current, join the right groups, ask existing clients and candidates for recommendations.  Tweet appropriately, or maintain a separate id for social and professional tweets. Keep your blog up to date, it’s easy to get into the discipline of posting every Monday morning. Be careful with Facebook profiles; you know where I’m coming from, we’ve all been there. If you are reaching for the highest roles, you have to be perceived as “one of them.” Be sure to keep everything professional, and on the academic side of business.
  • Attitude: Be confident, patient and don’t give up.  The breakthrough will come when you least expect it. This might be your first retained assignment and your first CEO role, but who’s to know?  Set your expectations from the outset. It’s painful but you may have to turn work down at times if your client won’t commit to exclusivity or retainer – but be brave and it will pay off. The principles of headhunting apply right up to CEO level.  You know them already, now show them what you are made of.

If you’re confident enough to shoot for the top, there is a good chance that you may have what it takes to succeed. Remember, there is nothing stopping you from recruiting at that level. The top CEO headhunters weren’t necessarily CEOs themselves – they just branded themselves that way and then dogmatically fought their way to the top. Good luck out there and happy hunting!

Read more in Executive Recruitment

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.