Clients and Agencies: Has the 'Special Relationship' changed?

Clients and Agencies: Has the ‘Special Relationship’ Changed?

The ‘Special Relationship’ is a phrase used to describe the exceptionally close relations between the UK and the USA, following its use in a 1946 speech by Winston Churchill. Although there has been much talk of recent strains to this relationship, the level of cooperation between the countries remains ‘unparalleled’ among major powers.

In Executive Search, which is traditionally the recruitment vehicle of choice for senior and strategically important hires, the client/provider relationship is deemed special too. Over a period of time a strong bond is formed between a client and their chosen Executive Recruitment partner. The role of the best Executive Recruitment agencies has therefore evolved over time to be more akin to that of a Management Consultant. In fact, Executive Search was originally an offshoot from Management Consulting, and the best Executive Search professionals strive to maintain that professionalism and ability.

This is not surprising considering that we:
• Ensure confidentiality/discretion. We can be counted upon to be discreet in our enquiries: careless talk can affect the bottom line.
• Keep costs down. Consider the high cost of maintaining an in house recruitment department. While Executive Search firms charge in the range of 20% to 40% of a candidate’s annual salary for the first year, this is still only a one-time cost and far less than the cost of running your own recruiting department.
• Protect clients’ own employees. We won’t poach candidates out of our client companies
• Provide insider knowledge and market information. We have our ears to the ground. Our unique dialogue with the market can deliver insights about an employer’s brand and attraction to candidates, as well as information that can help make decisions about strategy and structuring.
• Help set the right salary package. We will tell you if your offer is competitive, excessive or below industry standard, and help ensure retention of key candidates once they have been recruited.
• Bring a fresh perspective to the recruitment process. We ignore internal politics and preferences that plague senior hires. A professional Executive Search agency will bring an objectivity and rigorous selection process
• Provide an end-to-end service. Involved throughout the entire hiring process- identifying appropriate candidates, approaching and qualifying them, conducting detailed interviews, and presenting well-qualified and vetted candidates.
• Keep client interests at the heart of the search. Executive Search professionals are acutely aware of their position as brand ambassadors for their clients. We articulate and promote the qualities of the client that make them aspirational as an employer.

But given the volatile nature of markets recently, has this ‘special relationship’ changed? Are clients less likely to value all the tangible and intangible benefits of using a professional Search consultancy? Would they prefer an in-house recruitment capability to an external hiring solution?

There is no doubt that the proliferation of job boards, the increasing tendency to have an internal Resourcing Specialist on board, the perceived expense of using retained search, the tapping-up of internal referrals and the belief that Search consultancies ‘take months’ to deliver results, have led some to question the ‘special relationship’. There has been turmoil in the economy over the past few years and this has impacted the recruitment of Senior Executives. But it is widely agreed that the picture is improving. Following a precipitous 32.5% decline in 2009 (according to the Association of Executive Search Consultants, AESC), the industry grew by an average of 28.5% in 2010 and is on track to do well again in 2011.

Does this mean the worst is over, clients will once more appreciate the value in engaging Search firms, and the ‘special relationship’ is back on track? ‘Relationship’ implies longevity and resilience and trust. Though the client/Search consultancy partnership has been shaken, key concepts such as professionalism, well-informed competence, standards of ethical behaviour, and flexibility of approach, will ensure that the relationship will continue into the future, and that more ‘special relationships’ will grow and flourish too.

Gina Sargunar

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