The end of the road for Search..?

[tweetmeme]You may have seen the recent post entitled How free social media beat the recruitment consultants to death It seems to have caused much hysteria in certain circles and whilst it is still a bit premature to hail the death of the recruitment consultant (again!) it does serve as an indication of the power of social media in the recruitment mix.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is in denial.  One group in particular who should be discussing the development and impact of social media more than most are those involved in Executive Search.  Of all the players in the recruitment industry it is the Search firms in particularly that have considered themselves immune from market forces. And rather arrogantly so at times.  It is clear from the evidence above that if nothing else they really should start thinking more openly about what lies ahead.

However in recent discussions with senior HR folk, the general view was that Search will remain largely immune from the impact of social networking.  After all, like many senior level decisions, sticking with industry standard is the safe option. Nobody got fired for picking IBM right?

Similarly no one got fired for using one of the top 5 Search firms for the CEO search. (although I would argue IBM are a little more reliable as a choice!)  “The Board/CEO will always want to use them” they argue; a point nicely illustrated by the above article when Tom Allason points out that the board of his previous start up chose to use a ‘headhunter’ on insistence of their VC partners.

So what is the attraction?  There are two principle reasons people chose the search firms in my experience:

  • Access to their network – the little black book of contacts inaccessible to those not “in the know.”
  • To make themselves visible – They need to be seen. They want to be one of the names in the book to make sure they are on the radar should a juicy job come up in the future.

Many of today’s senior executives are baby boomers who, like me, left university with only a limited number of tools available to keep in touch – namely landline and snail mail! Consequently I lost touch with many people and it’s only recently through the emergence of sites like Friendsreunited, Facebook and LinkedIn that a larger part of that network is now available to me. So, its reasonable to assume that a Search consultant’s network will deliver a better crop of potential candidates than I could rustle up myself.

But will that always be the case?  Methinks not. Consider for a moment what might happen in the future.

Take someone currently aged between 18 and 22 and fast forward 15 years.  That snotty nosed, binge drinking student is now the CEO of a successful company (hard to imagine I know but bear with me). That individual will use IM, Facebook, LinkedIn, and probably another 8 tools already embedded in their DNA as their de facto method of communication.  There is already evidence that they will not use email as a primary communication format, if they use it at all.  (Lucky beggars!)  They won’t be looking to trace old classmates or colleagues like we do because they will not have ‘lost touch’ with them in the first place the way we did.  In fact they will probably be trying to reduce the number overall.

They will be ‘super connected’ and, as such, are they likely to appoint a Search firm if they need to hire a senior team? I suspect not as their own networks will challenge anything a search consultant could offer.  Will they also need to be on the search consultants radar?  I somehow doubt it given that they will be on everyone else’s.

I know where my money is.  Tom Allason managed to do what he did with tools that are only really now coming into their own.  In many ways they are still in their infancy, the extent of their power and value yet to be fully appreciated until those that make up Generation Y and the Millennials take centre stage in the workforce.  Ironically, it is actually possible that the search guys might be the first casualties of the change and not, as has been suggested, the last.  After all, there are some compelling reasons to put them at the top of the list:

  • The savings per hire are substantial
  • Many more senior people are now traceable and contactable online
  • Senior level recruitment is low volume and therefore manageable inhouse
  • The positive effects of exploiting networks in terms of candidate attitude, as demonstrated by Tom’s experience

Low to mid level recruitment, however requires much more legwork simply because of the higher volumes involved and as such demands an infrastructure that only the largest of organisations seem willing to take on, RPO’s and outsourcers aside.  Perhaps senior level recruitment is more vulnerable to change than many think?

Don’t get me wrong, the volume market will be affected too, but what a turn up for the books it would be if social media turned out to be the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs of the search industry.

I’ll leave you with Tom’s own assessment of the implications of what he has achieved:

“I think what the recruitment industry should take away from this is that prospective clients really can beat them at their own game, if they want to make the effort. The recruitment industry needs to recognise this and innovate… find ways of adding value… and justify/rationalise their proposition.”

‘Nuff said.

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