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Why Hiring an Internal Executive Search Specialist Is Very Unlikely To Work
Building a robust executive and leadership team is crucial for any organisation’s success. For larger and growing businesses this may result in the need for several senior roles to be filled on an ongoing basis. In this pursuit, some companies consider bringing in an internal executive search specialist – a dedicated professional tasked with sourcing and vetting high-calibre candidates for key leadership roles – rather than utilising the services of a professional executive search consultancy. While this may seem like a strategic move, it’s not without its (significant) drawbacks.
Before venturing down this path, it’s essential to fully consider the potential pitfalls against the perceived benefits.
Initial Drawbacks to Consider
- Loss of Objectivity: Embedded within the company culture, an internal specialist might develop unconscious biases towards existing employees or favour specific departments. This can limit the talent pool, potentially overlooking high-performing external candidates who bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences. An external lens when it comes to strategic roles is a critical component to knowing what the right fit is going to be, and where to find it.
- Limited Network Reach: Compared to established external executive search firms with vast and cultivated networks, internal specialists may lack access to wide talent pools – experienced executives often passively engaged in their current roles. This can restrict the quality and quantity of viable candidates. You are also only going to benefit from a severely limited network, rather than the network of an entire firm.
- One Person, not One Firm: Bringing in a single consultant is very different to leveraging the expertise of a professional search firm who have deep resources, networks and tools (many of which are cost-prohibitive unless being used at scale). Whilst you may have a single person’s experience in executive search, you don’t have a whole search firm behind your strategic hires. This is one of the reasons all searches consist of a carefully constructed team to maximise reach and perspectives for that particular role. This team is likely to look very different for various functions.
- Overreliance and Single Point of Failure: With all eggs in one basket, the organisation becomes heavily reliant on often a single specialist’s expertise and network. If the specialist leaves or underperforms, the executive search function suffers, potentially delaying critical hires and impacting leadership succession plans.
- Cost Considerations: While seemingly cost-effective compared to external firms, hiring an internal specialist carries significant expenses and ownership of all of the risk. Salary, benefits, training, and technology for specialist tools add up, especially if the specialist doesn’t consistently deliver successful placements. It is likely to be less expensive to work with a long-term executive search partner, particularly if you have several senior roles to fill where you can benefit from economies of scale alongside a scalable function with depth and breadth that shares the risk and reward as true partners.
Utilising an executive search firm comes with a very significant benefit that many companies don’t consider and that is a confidential platform for potentially interested candidates to discuss the role without exposing their identity to the client in the first instance. The use of a professional firm also indicates that the company is taking the role seriously and that it is not just a “fishing exercise”.
- Senior-level candidates expect absolute discretion. Their current roles are often high-profile or closely competitive, and premature disclosure of their interest in another position can damage their reputation and standing within their existing organisation. The best candidates simply will not take that risk with an internal search specialist embedded within the company or with a hiring manager directly. They are far more comfortable discussing an opportunity with a specialist search firm whose credibility in the market for confidentiality is well-established and trusted.
- Internal leaks can be devastating. News of a potential leadership search, even if premature, can disrupt morale, sow confusion, and trigger internal power struggles. If an internal specialist is not adept at managing information flow and maintaining confidentiality, the entire search process can be compromised.
Optics of a “Fishing Exercise”
- Senior-level candidates scrutinise the seriousness of the search. If the internal specialist is perceived as inexperienced or lacking access to a strong network, it can send the message that the search is not a genuine effort to find the best possible leader, but rather a preliminary “fishing expedition” to gauge internal interest or test the waters with competitors. Credible candidates will simply not engage.
- A poorly executed search can damage the company’s reputation. If the search process appears disorganised, mysterious or focused on internal politics rather than merit, it can dissuade the best talent from considering future opportunities with the company. This can damage the employer’s brand and hinder future recruitment efforts.
In place of a single individual being employed internally (even if experienced), by partnering with a reputable executive search firm you can leverage their extensive networks and have access to a full team of experts for each search. Additionally, executive search fees are split into milestones/deliverables meaning that you both incentivise the right outcome, together with sharing the risk.
Most critically, your search for the best talent becomes borderless and strategic, in the hands of a firm that directs search and selection for strategic leaders every day. This comes with wider industry knowledge and access to an entire wealth of data, compensation research and in-house research teams which would not be feasible to replicate in-house.
The decision to hire an internal executive search specialist requires very careful consideration. Ultimately, there is a reason why even the biggest companies with the largest in-house talent teams use professional executive search consultants.
If you would like to read more about the risks of trying senior leadership hiring yourself versus the cost of partnering with an executive search firm, you can read our article here.
This post has been published by the CJPI Insights Editorial Team, compiling the best insights and research from our experts.