Executive search is a collaborative service. In fact, a search typically only ever proves successful if the client you’re conducting it with is invested in the process—meaning they’re engaged and committed to ensuring you have the information and insight you need to locate and land quality candidates. As a recruiter, you can’t make decisions unilaterally on your client’s behalf. You’re not familiar with your client’s company and their unique set of challenges. In order to do your job effectively, you and your client have to work together.
The trouble is, cultivating this sort of commitment on behalf of your client can be challenging. But there are steps you can take to ensure your clients participate actively in your process. Here are five of the most crucial.
#1: Outline the process and establish yourself as the expert right from the beginning.
The first step you should take to get your clients to commit in your partnership is show them that you’re deserving of their investment of their time and money.
To do that, you need to establish yourself as the expert right off the bat. Sell your client with a process—one that’s proven, thorough, and purposefully designed—along with an established protocol for solving problems and for finding the best candidates possible. Flesh out your overall strategy and why you’ve designed it the way you have. Sure, your client might be the CEO of a major company—but you’re the executive for this particular project. You are the best suited to recruit. Convey that.
Doing so will sell your client on your credibility as a leader, which will go a long way toward winning their commitment.
#2: Make sure your expectations are aligned.
Once you’ve sold yourself as an expert and detailed for your client what your process entails, you’ll next need to explain what exactly will be expected of them as part of it.
This is nothing short of critical. In fact, setting these expectations with your client should be a defined component of your overall process. There are some things that you as a recruiter need to do that you won’t be able to without your client’s input. Unless you can rely on your client to provide you with the information and insight you need when you need it, you cannot confidently go forward with your search.
So right at the outset of the search, you need to make sure your client understands what’s going to be required of them. Sit down with them and detail exactly what it is you’ll need: how often you’re going to meet for status calls to discuss results, what your communication will look like in between those calls, and how you’ll need to make adjustments to your strategy if such a need pops up. Sometimes the market will support your initial hypothesis, for example, but sometimes it won’t.
Especially if your client hasn’t partnered with a search firm before, their expectations for how a search should be conducted might not match yours. A lot of people—C-level executives included—simply don’t know what the process entails, or they have a false belief that you’ll be able to do everything for them without their input or involvement.
If you don’t correct that misunderstanding, the search will be inundated with tension every step of the way, and it will be less likely to end in success.
#3: Check in with your client frequently and encourage them to view your work as a true partnership.
Of course, it’s not enough for you and your client to agree on collaborating frequently—you need to put that into practice and make strategic collaboration a defined component of your work together.
In this sense, you should view your work with a client as a true partnership and encourage them to view it the same way. Operate right from the beginning like you’re working with your client, as opposed to for them. I've been a part of many searches where this was not the case—where clients didn’t show up for calls or proved otherwise unresponsive—and the search suffered as a result.
The best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to start checking in with your client right out the gate. Those status meetings double as a means of both proving to your client that you’re an expert in this field—that you’re capable of doing everything you said you would do—as well as making a habit out of collaboration.
#4: Listen—and incorporate—your client’s feedback.
In approaching your work with your client as a partnership, however, it’s important that you live up to your end of that bargain—meaning, you need to listen to and incorporate your client’s feedback during and after status meetings.
For example, each week, when you meet with your client and present them with the candidates you’ve found, ask them what they think: which ones do they like? Are they satisfied with the findings? If not, what about the strategy should we change?
If your client is properly engaged, they’ll be well-positioned and even outright eager to provide you with this sort of feedback. But it’s not enough, of course, to simply listen to that feedback. You need to implement it—and that’s the second step. When you come back to your next meeting with your client, show them the adjustments you’ve made and how those will impact the search moving forward.
This will prove to your clients that you’re working both hard and smart, and that you appreciate the extent to which they’re living up to their side of the bargain.
#5: Make things easy for your client.
No matter how well you frame your partnership and set up expectations, however, you can’t ask clients to do too much. Don’t give them stacks of homework to complete. Clients will get tired of that and, in the end, seek other firms.
Instead, make their side of the partnership as easy as possible. Tee things up for them. Bundle up resources, package your deliverables in a digestible way, and be specific in regards to what next steps your client is responsible for. If you’re asking your client for their opinion on candidates you’ve found, present those candidates alongside the client’s initial goals, the specifications of the role, and whatever other pieces of context are necessary for the client to make an informed analysis.
This, too, is part of your job as a partner in a search: to make your client’s job in the process as simple as possible.
One easy way to do that is to equip yourself with an online platform like Clockwork—an online application wherein every piece of data relevant to a search can be housed and presented in a way that’s transparent, accessible, and conducive to collaboration. It’s a more preferable means of presenting information than a massive 30-page Word doc.
At the end of the day, one unavoidable aspect of your job as an executive recruiter is to ensure your client is invested in the search. Approach this part of the search with the same level of care and attention you give to things like research and outreach. Because without that investment, you’ll have a much harder time attaining success.