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Blog: Pass the Baton


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Executive Search is Broken. Why You Need a Talent Broker Instead.


I've been running an executive search firm in the education sector for the past seven years. I sit at tables with CEOs and board members looking to hire top executive talent every day. I'm here to tell you that the system of executive search is broken.

Search is based on an alternative fact:

Executives are hired based on merit.

They are not.

And because executives looking for top talent are not as conditioned to hire based on merit as you might think, every person in America deserves their own talent broker -- someone holding up a mirror for them, rooting for them and opening doors it takes ages to open on one's own. 

But first, let’s unpack the illusion of merit that surrounds executive search.

Myth#1: “I’m just open to the best person (that I know).” Executive search committees often tell us they are "open to the best person." What they don't add is "that I know." In our firm’s entire history, only one client has ever hired an individual that was not already known to the client, known to the client’s network or known to OWG’s network. What does this tell us? It tells us that as human beings we have a very strong aversion to what we like to call, “stranger danger.” One CEO said, “Ify, I look prospective candidates up on LinkedIn. If we don’t have at least two dozen people in common, that’s a bad sign.” We don’t trust people we don’t know, especially when they do not remind us of ourselves.

Myth#2: Posting jobs matter. Organizations often post jobs to create the illusion of a fair and equitable system since presumably, anyone can apply. But here’s the thing – no executive gets hired that way. First, job postings are often, at their very best, dull and at their very worst, confusing, ostensibly forcing anyone who wants to simply learn more about the job to apply. Second, even if you could get hired that way, why would you want to? The odds are not in your favor. Enter “Chief of Staff + New York” into LinkedIn. Guess how many hits come up? 1,600. Even if you participated in the interview process for 10% of those opportunities it would take you 4 years – four years! – to complete the process. Talent brokers can be a bridge – focusing on the details that matter – to both leaders and organizations. 

Myth#3: Quality vs. Diversity. Last year a prospective executive search client said, "Ify, I get that you're on this diversity thing, but at the end of the day, it's about quality, right?" As though there were two teams -- diversity and quality -- and only one team could win.

Last year, we led searches for several historically white organizations. Nearly every search netted 175 applicants in 4 weeks – 80% of whom were leaders of color. And last year, 81% of our c-suite placements into historically white organizations were people of color.

If you are reading this and your first question was, “But what about the quality?” You should ask yourself if you’d have the same reaction if I’d told you that 175 applicants had applied in 4 weeks and that 80% of them had been white or that more than 81% of the people already in senior leadership in America are white. If your first question isn’t, “But what about the quality?” you should ask yourself why.

So, now what? 

We believe that every person in America deserves their own talent broker.

Imagine it.

If you’re a Board Member: Your talent broker can build out the succession plan for your CEO, months or years in advance. 

If you’re a CEO: Your talent broker could build your bench for each member of your leadership team. Your talent broker might also connect you to your next job.

If you’re the Chief People Officer: Your talent broker could build benches for all of your internal clients (hiring managers).

If you’re an individual – as we all are – and you love your job (or even if you don’t), we’ll take stock of your dreams – the life you imagine for yourself – and ask ourselves one question: Whom do we know who can help you get there?

At its core – a talent broker – armed with access to multiple networks, decision makers, and your personal story -- relies on a belief that it is people that get you where you want to go – not resumes, not job descriptions and certainly not merit.

Of course, there are no guarantees that your talent broker will change your life.

But we’re betting they just might.


Ify WalkerresourcesComment