A couple of days ago I met the Chairman of a leading business software company to discuss the recruitment of a new CEO.

The conversation quickly delved into the objectives for the business and the scope of the role itself, then moved stealthily into the subject of my experience and ability to recruit such a position and soon we got to talking in depth on the pros and cons of a strong “contact book” – the database of contacts and potential candidates a recruiter has, ready to call when a relevant vacancy arises – and I was aware that there are very different views in the business world on the perceived value of such a contact list.

How important do you think it is for a recruiter to have a ‘ready made’ database of candidates available for a vacancy? How reliant do you think a recruiter should be on their database?

It seems fair to assume every experienced recruiter must have a strong network of contacts, however:

  1. there are a lot of inexperienced recruiters out there,
  2. one’s contact database will only ever be a fraction of the possible candidates for a role, and
  3. every recruiter now has access to the ultimate candidate database – the internet.

Since I began recruiting in 1997, I have spoken to thousands of Executives (mostly in the UK and France) and placed quite a few of them. So, when I recruit a new CEO for example – how valuable is that network of potential candidates that I already have?

My contact network makes my job easier (great for me!), but it is not what ensures the best results for my clients. I could find a good selection of CEO candidates from my existing contact list, but my job is not just to find ‘someone who can do the job’, it is to find ‘the best person for the job’ and to me that means an exhaustive search across the market – my existing direct contacts, my extended network (LinkedIn for example) and anyone else that meets my target profile for the role (good old fashioned ‘Headhunting’).

For example, shortly after that meeting to discuss that CEO vacancy, I made an update to my LinkedIn profile – reflecting the fact that I am now working under the banner of “Capability Consulting” – and I received a series of “Congrats on the new role!” messages, including one from a COO of another software related company. I’ve not yet met him, so I checked out his profile and guess what – he looked pretty good for the CEO vacancy, so I contacted him, then arranged to meet to find out more.

That new contact may get the CEO job, or it is possible that the ideal candidate for that role is someone I already know, but it is also possible that the ideal candidate is someone completely new to me.

Let’s be honest, with the power of the internet, anyone can find a candidate for a job (lots of them), so what really makes the difference in selecting the right CEO, is time spent mapping and contacting people with the target profile and then most importantly, spending the time and effort to really get to know those individuals – their skills, experience, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, character and circumstances.

Those are the factors that combine to create ‘Capability’:

1. “the ability to perform or achieve certain actions or outcomes”  2. “the intersection of capacity and ability”.

The skills and experience to assess those ‘Capability’ factors, plus being prepared to spend the time it takes to do that for all the relevant candidates, is the true crux of an effective recruitment process and surely how a good recruiter should earn their fee?

I spend much of my time speaking to new contacts – people who might become candidates or even clients of my services – to make sure I am not reliant on my existing candidate list and to practice my ‘Capability’ evaluation skills.

So, buyer beware – if a recruiter sells their service to you on their “comprehensive candidate database” or “specialist market knowledge”, they may be too complacent (or even unable) to spend the time searching for additional candidates and to fully evaluate their candidates’ actual ‘Capability’ to perform the role or fit into the company culture.

By the way – if you might be interested in a great CEO role or other Executive opportunities , then please get in touch!