Search and Selection

When staffing solutions become reputation solutions

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Having the right team on your side is crucial; they can make or break your company. They also play an incredibly important role in how your organisation is perceived, which ultimately contributes to the business’ reputation.

Do you have a recruitment strategy and policy in place, or do you just hire people as the need arises and hope for the best?

I recently caught up with Lisa Wannell, the founder and Director of Halogen Search & Selection, and chatted about the importance of getting the right person on board in a company.

What exactly does a search and selection specialist do?

In short, a search and selection specialist will go out into the market to search for people with particular experience, skills or expertise and from that pool of people, select the most appropriate candidates for a client brief. My particular specialism is corporate and marketing communications and investor relations and the majority of positions I work on with clients are at a senior level. The lifeblood of any search consultant is their network within their specialist field, their relationships with their clients and the depth of their knowledge of their particular industry.

Why is it important to invest in a search consultant?

It is important to invest in a search consultant for the simple reason that it will save a client time and money. Specialist recruiters have invariably spent years cultivating a network of professionals who are experts in a particular field. They can quickly tap into this network when taking on a new mandate to begin targeting potential candidates and, critically, asking for referrals and recommendations to identify ‘passive’ talent; people who aren’t actively looking for a new position. They understand the brief and they know the right questions to ask the client to drill down beyond what is outlined in a job description (if there is one). Generalist recruiters don’t have this depth of knowledge or the instant network. Building networks takes time and clients generally don’t want to wait months before they can start interviewing candidates.

What are the key things to ask your search consultant?

Ask for evidence that they have successfully filled similar briefs, in the same or relevant industry, in organisations of a similar size and operating structure. Find out which other firms they have worked with in your sector—this is important to establish early on in order to avoid any conflicts of interest, to identify any potential ‘hunting grounds’ or, equally important, which companies are off-limits to the search consultant. The chemistry between a hiring manager and the search consultant is extremely important and you will usually be able to gauge this at the first meeting. Good recruiters will have done their homework on your company before the first briefing meeting and will know the right questions to ask to really get a sense of what the criteria of a role should be, what the key challenges are that the company is facing, what their appetite is for change, what kind of individuals do well there and, critically, whether the profile of the person they’re looking to hire is, in fact, the right one. Experienced search consultants might ask difficult questions around this subject and challenge a client to re-think the role profile.

Are there some non-negotiables/dealbreakers to be aware of when investing in a search consultant?

This varies depending on which country you’re working in. In the UK, for instance, it’s rare for a recruiter to be asked to do formal background checks on a candidate, as the hiring company’s human resources (HR) team usually prefers to handle this.

In South Africa, however, background checks are often undertaken by the search consultant; checking educational credentials is important, given the problem of forged and spurious qualification certificates. It’s usually a very straight-forward process but sometimes it does produce unforeseen results, which can delay an offer process. Discovering that a candidate has a criminal record obviously raises a rather large red flag but whether their career should be held to ransom because of a traffic offence that took place 15 years previously, that might seem a bit harsh.

What is the one thing you wished the people on your books hoping to be hired knew/did when it comes to your type of services?

The relationship between a recruiter and a candidate is a really important one and it’s very much a two-way street. In this job, you do develop a bit of a nose for time-wasters and window-shoppers; candidates who aren’t really serious about moving and use the process as leverage to pitch for a salary increase at their current company. This rarely ends well for a candidate as their loyalty to their present company is called into question, the recruitment consultant won’t be inclined to work with that candidate again and they can very quickly get a bad reputation in the market. Sloppy CVs are another bug-bear: it’s an important calling card document and not spending the time to make it look good, correcting spelling and grammatical errors and inconsistencies in dates etc., doesn’t create a good first impression.

What is the one thing that people get wrong about the work you do?

I think that the value that specialist recruiters can offer companies is enormous and the benefits of using their services aren’t always well understood. HR directors often view external recruiters with suspicion, to be kept at bay, instead of as potential business partners who could bring valuable insights into their company from the outside world. A specialist recruiter will save a client both time and money. The big-name global search firms with offices in South Africa may trade on their strong, international C-Suite network and their specialist sector teams but ask them to find a corporate affairs director or an investor relations specialist to help a company with its JSE listing and they invariably won’t deliver as quickly as a specialist will.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I believe that the recruitment industry as a whole, from executive search consultants placing CEOs and non-executive directors (NED) to IT and other high-volume recruiters, is one, which urgently needs to reinvent itself and be disrupted. The competition for top talent is fierce and too often, hiring new people is a knee-jerk reaction to a post becoming vacant or a restructuring that is already taking place. The majority of job descriptions I see are too prescriptive and they prioritise technical capability over qualities such as leadership potential, mentoring skills and the ability to influence and inspire. Granted, you can’t get all of this down in a job spec but the companies who will climb to the top of the list as the ones people want to work for are those that hire the right people (which may mean being brave enough to hire someone without a pre-defined role in mind), and then empowering them to be the best they can be. 

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