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The Power of Executive Search

Written by: Anthony Lewis, Director at Tile Hill Peter Rice, Director at A Different Animal Ltd
Published on: 19 Nov 2020

Executive Search is about so much more than the word ‘search’. It’s about deep insight acquired through long-term relationships, fresh and focussed research and knowing who’s who in the sector and beyond. It’s a profession that champions the success of authorities up and down the country, and the individuals within them. That’s why, in this article, we wanted to shine a light on the great efforts made by our industry to deliver leadership that delivers.

As an industry, we have a responsibility to make your brand stronger - even more attractive. After all, it’s your story that will ultimately persuade the best leaders to consider a future within your organisation. With the help of talented Art Directors and Copywriters, we have to build a compelling case in the media that will whet the appetite of your desired target audience.

Advertising needs to not only portray what’s in it for the audience, it needs also to give a sense of what’s happening within your authority – is it fuelled by ambition? Is it building on success? Is it experiencing growth? Or even, is it struggling and needing new strategies to raise performance? These factors and more are important because, as well as attracting the right people, we also have to provide a way for others to de-select themselves out of the process at an early stage.  

We know from experience that some candidates actively want to pull up their sleeves and solve something, improve something or create a lasting legacy, so the ‘rough ride’ option can be compelling. Meanwhile, there are those who have been there, done it and are looking to share their experience and steer a steady course in a more settled environment. Organisations need different individuals at different times, you just need to understand which is right for you.

Advertising is a competitive arena, so the messaging and creative techniques we utilise (not to mention media selection and placement), need to set your brand apart and provide a distinctive reason why the best people should join. Conventional messages and generic bandwagon jargon reduce your power to stand out. So be careful.

Best practice, for a modern campaign, is to lead with advertising that then directs candidates to a microsite. This dynamic is important as the role of the advert is to entice, to create enough relevance and intrigue that the reader is compelled to find out more on the site. This means the advert doesn’t require every detail about the job – it’s not the Job Description, it’s the ‘WHY?’. The microsite carries the weight of the detail (the ‘WHAT’) and, in some instances, can even provide more information, such as video or a Q&A, that can allow candidates to get a feel for the culture, people and the place.

However, should you adopt this strategy, it’s important that you create a seamless brand experience - each has to link with the other. The design, writing and how the information is presented needs to be consistent, relevant, persuasive and relatable. Providing a great brand experience isn’t just about how you market the role though, it’s about how you interact with the people that are interested in the role, those who have applied and shown an interest, even those whose applications you are rejecting. It’s all a representation of your brand.

Advertising and branding alone will not guarantee a strong field however. To really engage the best people in your story (and why this is an opportunity they can’t miss) requires high quality conversations, and lots of them. Broad, pre-established networks and relationships built up over time enable a recruitment partner to identify the right people to source or approach for the role. Understanding the authority, its goals and values and how these relate to potential applicants’ individual motivations and career paths is key. Encouraging them, challenging perceptions and adding context helps them discover a potential fit and where they can add value.

Years of austerity, a historic villainization of individuals in specific roles, and a nervousness around organisational stability has led to trepidation and healthy cynicism when looking at new roles. In local government, there are many different factors that influence the ability for an individual to add value in a role and candidates want to know the reality of an organisation before they consider applying. There’s an unfortunate lag in employer branding and often, organisations are remembered by their historic issues, rather than their current brilliance. Individuals working in local government are often driven more by purpose and altruism than earning power or profit generation. As such, they want to feel a connection to the place and to the people, and be aligned to the direction of travel. It’s about feeling like they can deploy their skill set and experience in a way that brings about the best outcomes. This needs to be discussed openly with potential applicants, so their story and the story of the authority can be aligned in the early engagement part of the recruitment process.

That’s why briefing is so important to get right. It allows us to understand not only the role you need to fill, but the dynamics of your organisation, the team and the place; to build a profile of who you NEED in the role. We will let you know what is realistic and highlight the realities of the market.

So, in the nicest way, we interrogate you. We get you to delve deeper than you would have done if you were undertaking the search yourself. We must walk away from our meeting confident we know how to ‘sell’ the opportunity.

A good recruitment partner isn’t there to encourage everyone to apply for a job, they are there to help attract the right people that not only have the professional experience for a role, but have the style, skill set, values and motivation to be a success in a role. Our job is to act as partner for both client and candidate, and this is not something that often happens when hiring is taking place without a recruitment partner.

Not every brilliant candidate exists within the council’s network. More frequently than ever we are looking for skills and experience that could exist outside of the sector. Commercial acumen, physical development experience, contract management, digital expertise, and all at a senior level. Search can look outside of the obvious areas, map desired skill sets and seek to identify individuals who could translate their experience from other sectors and be a success. Advertising will not reach these people; they may not consider it a viable option until the conversation is explored. Whilst salary is one hurdle, more often than not, it’s down to a lack of awareness of what a local authority is trying to achieve or not understanding how their knowledge will benefit a local authority.

Good recruitment campaigns are inclusive and attract a diverse field of applicants. We’re often asked how to guarantee a diverse longlist, something we always strive for. This comes from a non-biased, non-coded advertising campaign and targeted approaches into specific networks and groups but, increasingly, it also comes down to enlightening conversations (often multiple conversations) with potential applicants, listening to concerns and highlighting the realities of working for the particular authority - discussing whether the employer has inclusive ambitions and, if they do, pointing to evidence that supports this. An advert alone will struggle to do this.

Executive Search is a high-touch and absorbing interaction requiring a fresh approach each time. Put in simple terms, effective senior recruitment requires significant time and effort. It requires honesty and commitment from the authority and a collaborative approach with a well networked recruitment partner in order to attract a diverse, talented field.