Neon River’s Peter Franks on how the internet has changed the world of executive search:
When I started in the headhunting industry in 2004, the internet was only just beginning to make an impact. The principles of good headhunting were very much in place, but candidate identification and research relied pretty much wholly on personal referrals and telephone based research. Linkedin was, of course, already up and running but few had yet seen the way in which the internet would create both opportunities and risks for the modern recruiter.I think the impact of the internet on recruitment has been mostly positive. The key advantage of social media such as Linkedin is that it simply gives the recruiter much more information on the candidate. Instead of relying on lists of conference attendees, or the limits of our personal networks, now we had the ability to find talent in a much more sophisticated and thorough way. Not for the last time, change would impact the industry.
Executive search changed; the new generation of researchers didn’t need to be the telephone warriors of before. Armed with search strings and a strong understanding of how to use technology, they enabled headhunting firms to gather much more insight about their ecosystem. Headhunting firms started to target highly educated, technologically strong graduates who had the analytical ability and intellectual curiosity to get into the detail of the sector. One downside for this new generation of researcher is that they are not always lucky enough to get as many opportunities to be on the phone and build their broader skillset.
I was fortunate. I had started by headhunting career at 22 during the dying days of the telephone research era. By my third day in headhunting, I was already phoning candidates. Of course, I was out of my depth, and learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. Even so, it gave me much practical experience that would serve me well later in my career. The internet offered an opportunity to be better prepared, to know more candidates, and to complete more searches – if you used it smartly. When you knew how to harness the internet in headhunting, you realised the value of understanding the detail when allied to the more people based elements.
There is certainly less of a premium on a deep personal network for the purpose of identifying talent these days, but the need to be discerning in recruitment processes is as great as ever. Understanding a sector or function goes far beyond simply identifying who works for a particular target company. As recruiters, our ultimate asset is the successful hire, and as well as identifying talent, we need to add value by finding creative ways to assess and attract the best candidates. The extra visibility within the recruitment market that the internet has created should help recruiters to focus on the important stuff – adding the real value.