What is Executive Search? [Director Roundtable Discussion]
East West Consulting is a leading Japanese executive search firm that has been in business for 36 years. We have consultants of various backgrounds in terms of age, gender, and nationality.
Among them, we asked a group of directors who are active with their unique backgrounds and thoughts to come together and talk about what “executive search” means to them.
Table of Contents
What is executive search?
The Position of Executive Search in the Recruitment Process
Frequently asked questions about executive search
Secrets to Success as a Consultant
Characteristics of East West Consulting
About Executive Search
Moderator: So, first of all, please tell me what is executive search.
Alexey: Executive search is the process of finding and introducing high-specification personnel who will become key players in the client’s business.
In order to understand the client’s needs, it is necessary to know the current trends in the industry, so I keep up with the industry trends and news.
Also, I am in charge of the IT industry, and my clients expect me to be able to speak, understand, and evaluate at the same level as an engineer, even though I am not an engineer. In other words, consultants themselves need to be able to talk to engineering candidates with technical terms and business knowledge, understand what kind of work they do and what kind of skills they have from an engineer’s perspective, and be able to evaluate how the work and skills can be utilized for the client. That may seem like a lot of work, but with experience and industry knowledge you will be able to do it.
Brandon: There are two things that are unique.
The first is that each consultant has developed his or her own sense of what is appropriate for the industry, as different industries may have different ways of doing things.
The second is that we always think ahead, not in the immediate future. We always think about whether or not we will be useful three months, one year, or three years from now.
I think about the client’s needs and how the people I introduce to them will be useful two or three years from now when I see the trends in the industry.
Pawel: The market changes every two to three years. In recent years, there have been many changes, such as the start of teleworking and the progress of digitization. I have been doing this job for 17 years, and even for the same client, the human resource needs vary depending on the times and circumstances, so it is always necessary to respond to these changes.
The Positioning of Executive Search on the Client’s Side
Moderator: Then, what are the characteristics and good uses of executive search for your clients?
Alexey: Major companies with tens of thousands of employees sometimes can have over hundreds of internal recruiters in their HR departments. Even so, hiring is difficult and they are very busy. For them, an executive search firm like us is very useful because we can introduce them to the right people, which we met, interviewed and evaluated. We reduce the workload of our clients by that. Of course, the executive search firm needs to be trusted and have a proven track record.
Brandon: In a nutshell, executive search is about quality, and general placement is about quantity.
Moderator: Just by asking you, it sounds like it’s a very difficult job, but in executive search, do you sometimes find people who are not thinking about changing jobs and introduce them to others?
Alexey: Yes, we do. We also target people who are not thinking about changing jobs. Even these people become interested when we contact them and explain the position. There have been many cases where you have introduced them to someone and they have decided to change jobs.
Brandon: Yes, that’s right. We also have a network of referrals. We are connected to many people through our network, and from there, the circle expands and we meet many people.
Pawel: At Executive Search, we often work on projects with annual incomes of 20 million to 30 million or more. Especially at that level, there are not many candidates looking for work. We have to know where to find them.
We need to know where they are, and when we find them, we need to bring them together. We need to develop those skills and knowledge, so our consultants work hard and gain experience every day.
Frequently Asked Questions about Executive Search
Moderator: I see, you are developing knowledge and experience to scout for talent who are not looking to change jobs.
How do you think executive search is viewed by candidates?
Alexey: Well, let me give you two examples: first, when we scout for someone who fits the required qualifications that our client is looking for, candidate says, “I’m still a staff employee. I don’t fit for the executive search”.
Since it is an executive search, it is often thought that it is only for high-ranking positions. However, there are times when we are assigned exclusive projects by our clients and scout for experts with special skills, even though they can be staff level.
Second, when scouting, the candidate may say, “I have several scouting opportunities coming my way, and they come with job descriptions. Could you send me the job description first? I will let you know if I am interested after checking the job description.”.
But that is not a good way to change jobs. There are many factors involved in changing jobs, and you need to check them carefully. It is very dangerous to make a decision based only on a job description.
What you need to verify is whether the position will allow you to structure your future career, the organization of the company, the characteristics of the people working there, and other various information that needs to be carefully examined.
Therefore, a job description alone cannot tell the whole story.
Our consultants meet with each and every candidate and provide career counseling that includes work situations and family matters. So I think it is necessary for candidates to rely on professionals in this way. Also, companies tend to try to recruit candidates directly. However, there are few companies that can do this, because candidates want to have multiple options when considering a career change. They want to see and compare other offers, meet with other potential employers, to be sure they make the right decision changing job. They want to be able to make career decisions from many different angles. Candidates often ask us to negotiate with them.
Moderator: I see that in such a situation, there are cases where the client and candidate’s respective requirements do not immediately match. In such cases, how do you establish a relationship with both parties?
Brandon: We hope that the candidates we introduce will stay at our clients for a long time and make a big contribution to their growth.
When we introduce candidates to our clients, we do so knowing our clients are looking for future leaders. At the same time, we know our candidates are looking for the right company where they can be happiest. So the bar is always high.
Alexey: I’m not biased one way or the other either.
There is a high chance that the candidate will be interviewed by one of managers which I introduced to the client. I think this is reassuring for the candidate.
I also speak to the client from the perspective of the candidate. Candidates often don’t know what they’re getting if they just accept the offer, so it’s necessary for them to know and evaluate all details helping them to make right decision. I help candidates to have a full picture about the client before signing the offer.
Pawel: I think it’s important to give feedback to both the candidate and the client in a timely manner. It is important not to make both parties uncomfortable.
The Secret to Success as a Consultant
Moderator: What are the characteristics of a successful consultant in executive search?
Alexey: First of all, it is not to be emotional. Executive search is a repetitive process of failure and success. Especially since it is a job that deals with people, if you are in a gloomy mood, the other person will feel it. As with any job, it is important to have a professional attitude that allows you to respond calmly to any situation.
Pawel: As with any job, you can be successful if you can work hard and persistently!
Alexey: Also, there is a big difference between the Japanese and overseas markets. In Japan, however, job changes are still less common than in Europe and the United States. Therefore, you need to start by building a trusting relationship with your candidate carefully. Everyone is very cautious, no matter how good the position is.
Brandon: One thing you have to keep in mind when recruiting in Japan is the hierarchical culture. Sometimes a senior candidate may hesitate to take advice from a junior consultant or vice versa. But like a good doctor or lawyer, if you really know your stuff, your age doesn’t matter. So a good consultant is able to earn trust from any level of candidate.
About East West Consulting
Moderator: Finally, please tell me about East West Consulting. What do those of you who have been here for many years know about the company, how it has changed over the years, and what is it like today?
Alexey: I think one of the reasons our company has been around for so long is that we have good DNA. Over time, the way we deal with clients and candidates has not changed. Even when new people come in, they are able to do the same thing because the environment is the same.
Brandon: We have a good balance of Japanese and non-Japanese employees.
The company is a free environment, and as long as you keep the fundamentals in mind, you can do things your own way and hone your own sense of style. Also, the company is changing with the changing times, and there is an environment that allows for change. I think that is one of the characteristics of our company.
Pawel: Also, management philosophy and vision stayed even though the market changed over times.
So everyone can work here based on that for a long time with peace of mind, and everyone gets along well with each other.
Alexey: If you stay here, everyone has a chance to succeed.
That’s why many of our consultants have been with us for 10 or 20 years without quitting.
Pawel: That’s right! It’s a company where you can challenge yourself regardless of nationality or gender.
Brandon: East West is a great place to work if you passionate about this business. I think most of us wake up every morning excited to help our candidates and clients succeed. That makes for a pretty positive feeling in the office.
Pawel: We have a lot of experienced people and young people coming in these days.
Alexey: I think our turnover rate is lower than other companies.
Brandon: Alexey is right. We have high consultant retention at East West and I think our clients appreciate that. I have been working with some of the same candidates and clients for over 20 years and when they need me, they know Brandon at East West has their back.
Moderator: It really is a rare environment in the human resources industry to have so many people who have been here for 10 or 20 years.
Brandon: As in any business, repeat business is the best kind. So we work very carefully to earn trust.
Pawel: Yes, we always try not to break relationships with clients and candidates, no matter how long we have been working with them.
Moderator: Very well understood. Thank you very much for your explanation and for your time today.
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