By now everyone in the executive search marketplace, whether search firm or candidate, is aware of LinkedIn. With 238 million names it is almost a foregone conclusion that many or most candidates on a short list will have a LinkedIn profile.

Most of Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) members when commenting on LinkedIn acknowledge that it is a very useful name generation tool. Some of the AESC's largest members even have significant contracts with LinkedIn to provide multi-license facilities to their research staff.

But let’s look more closely at the research processes that embrace LinkedIn. In many respects LinkedIn is no different to the many other reference directories and databases that have been available as name generation sources for many years. Dun & Bradstreet, ZoomInfo, Hoovers etc. They all have provided useful starting points for searches, in addition to an executive search firm’s own proprietary database.

But how these databases were used has always been fundamentally important to the efficacy of the executive search and the quality of the long and short lists. It is not quantity that differentiates a successful search but quality. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is the skill and the value-add of search consultants. "Give me 20 good sources and I will find you five top quality candidates" is often a better proposition for our service than "give me 2,000 names and I will spend my time selecting the ones that seem best from that pool." Why is the first likely to be better than the second? Because the first obliges the retained executive search researcher to talk to respected sources in the market place and spend the very limited time available for research in networking and verification rather than in transaction processing of data.

It is understandable that researchers should be tempted to take the fastest route to producing a long list since the time pressures placed upon them by the client assignment and thus their consultant can be severe, plus the fact that they are handling multiple searches at once. But great care has to be taken to ensure that speed does not overtake careful evaluation as a major criterion for success.

Rachel Roche, the AESC’s consultant trainer for Researchers and Associates is hearing increasingly from executive search partners in AESC member firms that LinkedIn can provide an illusionary safety belt or security blanket as opposed to being used purely as a first step for name generation. As a result the content of her on-line courses, expert forums and the face to face Researcher Summits conducted for the AESC will include even more concentration on the critical need for creative sourcing and evaluation methods which are the essence of what retained executive search should be about.

LinkedIn or digital information sources like it are here to stay. And if used well then they will complement rather than supplant the process of retained executive search. They can be a very useful tool when conducting preliminary checks on potential candidates or sources. Being well briefed prior to a call is not only impressive to the target individual but can save significant time for the researcher in getting to the crux of the issue.

But let’s not lose sight of what retained search is designed to do i.e. through proactive contacting and careful market evaluation the process will produce outstanding candidates. Clients are not interested in obtaining average performers if they have paid an executive search fee. The whole point is to produce the best candidates that can be found against the job specification – not to select the best of a candidate list derived from advertising or a massive database such as LinkedIn.

Let’s continue to do what we do well and not be seduced by the allure of a tempting database.

About BlueSteps
BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 8,000 executive search professionals in more than 75 countries. Be visible, and be considered for over 90,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at

About the Association of Executive Search Consultants
The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) is the worldwide professional association for the retained executive search and leadership consulting industry. The AESC promotes the highest professional standards in retained executive search and leadership consulting through its industry recognized Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines. The AESC also serves to broaden public understanding of the retained executive search and leadership consulting process and acts as an advocate for the interests of its member firms.


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