What executive talents and companies
expect from search firms

By: Mark Louis Ferrolino

June 7, 2019

BusinessWorld Online Features

KEY EXECUTIVES, among other talents, face the most challenging transition in their careers. As they pursue opportunities outside their current work, they run the risk of exposing themselves at a situation that may compromise their status with their present employers. Here comes the importance of dealing with executive search and recruitment firms who value professionalism, ethics, and accountability, especially these days when competition among industry players continues to intensify.

A survey conducted by member firms of the Philippine Association of Executive Search Professionals, Inc. (PAESPI), an association of search firms formed to help professionalize the executive search business and curb malpractices in the industry, showed that executive talents prefer to deal with search consultants who are knowledgeable, ethical, candid, and discreet.

“These consultants will not only protect the confidentiality of the process. They will be upfront and candid about a candidate’s chances. As added value, they will provide insights as well as preinterview tips,” the Philippine Executive Search Industry Trends: 2016–2018 revealed.

Ninety-six percent of the executives surveyed in 2018 consider being ethical and having high professional standards as the most important positive of search firms. This is an increase of 14 percentage points from 82% recorded in 2016.

On the corporate clients side, the survey showed that companies who consider being ethical and trustworthy as the most important positive of headhunters jumped to 78% in 2018 from 59% in 2016.

“These two results affirm that we are on the right track. That we have essentially gained traction in our advocacy,” PAESPI President Jun R. Gil told BusinessWorld in an interview, referring to the organization’s push for ethical practices in the executive search industry.

Despite the remarkable progress, however, the survey also showed that the level of “high satisfaction” from the standpoints of executive talents and corporate clients in 2018 remained low, with only 24% and 10%, respectively, were “very satisfied” with executive search firms.

Although there was an improvement from the numbers of “very satisfied” executive talents over the 2016 survey, Mr. Gil noted that this is still considered low because in a three-step rating, “satisfactory” is virtually equivalent to a “fair” grade (good, fair, poor) especially when one considers the many negative verbatim ratings.

The sources of disappointment for executives were largely traceable to lack of process within the search firm, lack of core values such as ethics and customer service, and poorly trained consultants.

According to the 2018 survey, consultants who do not provide feedback on search progress disappoints executive talents the most. The incidence of this failure has worsened from two years ago.

Poor grasp of search specifications continues to be a source of disappointment, as well as having no effort to meet candidates, and openly distributing curriculum vitae (CV) without the permission of the candidates.

“Executive talents value confidentiality. Their CVs should not be submitted to clients without their consent as this is a violation of the Data Privacy Act and runs counter ethical practices,” the PAESPI survey said.

For companies, on the other hand, most of the shortcomings were due to lack of disciplined process, exacerbated by ill-trained consultants; and the absence of core values, which has led to unethical and predatory practices such as poaching from own clients.

To help professionalize the search industry, Mr. Gil said that executive talents and corporate clients should only deal with firms with a search process, verifiable track record, and compliance with the Data Privacy Law and a Code of Ethics.

Search firms, he added, must also invest in training quality consultants to be professionals and must build a culture where accountability, ethical practices and professionalism is valued and recognized.

For PAESPI, Mr. Gil said that the organization will continue with its educational program to raise awareness of Code of Ethics and professionalism, while exposing malpractices in the industry.

By and large, the executive search industry is highly competitive, said Mr. Gil. “It is this level of competition that has driven most of these firms into shortcuts, throwing out processes out of the window,” he added.

Despite being affected by technological innovations, Mr. Gil believes that the executive search firm industry will continue to thrive since it has its own niche.

“I have to admit that the industry is affected by technology such as LinkedIn. However, when it comes to a high-level search engagement, there’s no substitute to executive search, and that’s our niche. I don’t think companies will risk using LinkedIn to find top executives. While LinkedIn points to them some — not all — talents, LinkedIn does not assess, interview and recommend, which we do,” Mr. Gil said.

In the years to come, Mr. Gil is optimistic that more search firms will be professional and ethical. As the survey showed, companies and executives are starting to recognize the value of professionalism and ethical practices, he said.

In closing, Mr. Gil pointed out that companies and executive talents should consider search firms as one of their reliable partners in attaining their goals.

“Executive search is very valuable for companies who want to get executives who can help them grow their business. The executive search firm will look for special executives who will make a lot of difference for the future of the company,” Mr. Gil explained. “On the other hand, for the executive talents… the executive search firm opens the door to executive talents to pursue a career with a company giving better opportunities.”

From a macroeconomic perspective, this, according to Mr. Gil, fuels the economy, making sure that there are talents available to run the business. “As the business grows, and so the economy,” he said.