A strong relationship between executives and executive search consultants is one that helps both succeed in their career. For search consultants, this means having a strong network of executives who can act as sources and provide them with important market insights. To learn more about sourcing, we sat down with Rachel Roche, President of Smart Search and the AESC's consulting trainer for Researchers and Associates.

Question 1: Sourcing is a term that gets used in executive search often in a variety of ways and situations. How would you define it? executive search

  • You’re right, search professionals define the term “sourcing” in a few different ways, but for our purposes, sourcing involves seeking advice and insights from an expert in a particular industry or function. We are certainly interested in the source’s recommendations of potential candidates for a current search – or even future searches - and, if we are doing our job well, we are keenly interested in learning about the source’s background and career goals and how we may foster a relationship going forward.

Question 2: Is sourcing done to build an executive search consultant’s network, or is it usually done to just fill a position?

  • Both, and more. Sourcing is so multi-faceted and that is one of the reasons it is so powerful. Certainly, executive search profssionals at all levels (Researchers, Associates and Consultants) want to know as much as possible about the industries they serve and that means knowing and conversing with key players in their markets. But beyond that, we never know what new searches are around the corner. It could be that someone we source today could be an excellent candidate for a search six months from now. A well thought-out, well-executed sourcing conversation allows a source to form an opinion about the search professional. It gives the source a chance to hear how we portray our client and the opportunity, how much we understand the industry in which we are working, how insightfully we formulate questions, and more. I’m sure many of my search colleagues can cite examples of a source becoming a client. Sourcing early in the search process can help search professionals gauge whether the client’s desired candidate profile is realistic. Sometimes we learn that the must-haves or wish list needs to be revised in order to find prospective candidates. Knowing this quickly helps us advise our clients about their options.

Question 3: How can an executive make themselves more visible to an executive search consultant looking for a new executive source?

  • As executives contact search firms, especially firms that specialize in the executive’s space, they can indicate their willingness to engage in a sourcing conversation. In addition, being responsive to a search firm’s sourcing outreach can be a win-win scenario. The search professional gains powerful knowledge and insight about great potential candidates, the industry, and functional experts - and the executive has an opportunity to highlight his or her career achievements and foster a discussion about what’s next in his or her professional life.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to reach out to a consultant or to an executive search firm? Is there a best way to go about it?

  • I think it is always appropriate for an executive to reach out to a search firm with an understanding of how the retained search profession works. Retained firms work for and serve their client companies, so they are interested in knowing and developing relationships with potential candidates and sources in the industries they serve. My advice to executives who are looking for a new opportunity or who are open to a career move in the future is to make themselves known to firms in their industry and indicate their willingness to have a conversation now or when an appropriate search is underway. It is important to say that search firms are motivated to be in touch when such an opportunity arises.

Question 5: One thing you often hear is that executive search consultants value relationships with executives who can provide market insights. What kinds of unique insights can executives provide them?

  • I’m sure the answer differs for each search consultant and each search; however, we are always interested in the executive’s opinion about companies’ excellence and accomplishments. For instance, we may be working on a search to find an executive who brings pivotal experience in transformation. We would want the source’s thoughts about specific companies and executives in the sector that have navigated a major, successful change – and, importantly, the source’s opinion on how that transformation changed the sector. Beyond that kind of experiential insight, we know that executives have a broad understanding of their industry and can point us in the right direction – which companies do great work in a particular function and who, within their circle, has a specific set of experiences that may cause them to be an interesting potential candidate.

Question 6: An executive who is approached by a search consultant may not be looking for a new opportunity. What is the best way in your opinion to say no to the interview, but show that they still would like to build a relationship with the recruiters?

  • Ironically, most of the executives we contact are not looking for a new role at all. Retained firms are not seeking applicants, but rather qualified, talented executives who could consider a challenging, new opportunity because we contact them. If, however, an executive does not want to become a candidate, they can certainly say so openly. There are many reasons for an executive to want to stay in his or her current situation - it could be that the timing isn’t right, relocation may be difficult, etc. I would suggest that the executive convey his or her willingness to stay in touch with the search professional and, if possible, offer some ideas about where the consultant should look for candidates for the current search.


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