Executive Search Pressure cooker


What a crazy summertime it was. Working hard to have my desk, my laptop and my head tidied up for this years holiday season, suddenly I was pushed into improvising the day before I was to leave on summer holiday.

The executive search process for a Chief Technology Officer for one of my global clients in renewable energy was running towards its end.

Whilst managing that process towards successful closure, another valued relation knocked on our door, asking whether I would be able to recruit their company’s new Chief Operating Officer. Over summertime. To start September 1st.

Of course I can….


How long will it take an executive search firm to find the right candidate? 

The short answer: It depends. I’ve seen searches which take anywhere from a week or two to a year or longer to complete. The time it takes to identify, attract and hire the right employee depends on a variety of ingredients.

By it’s nature, all searches that people hire me to conduct for them – hence are paying money for – are difficult. I am typically not paid to identify talent that’s easy to find and attract. But some skill sets are mastered by fewer people and are thus in small supply. These people are not only harder to find, but because their skill sets are so valued by their current companies they are also harder to attract. In this specific case, the client was looking for a COO who will create and maintain world-class performance in information management and operations. I was challenged to identify, attract and hire the right (wo)man for the job and fast-forward that. Executive Search in a pressure cooker.

So, 8 weeks time. My colleague Rob Savelkoul being in Portugal. Me being moments away from holiday with my family. The hiring manager and the HR Manager having planned (although short) holidays. And probably the majority of ‘candidates-with-school-going-kids’ preparing for holiday, being on holiday, or returning home from holiday. A rather unique combination of skills, values and knowledge needed. A real challenge. But challenge accepted.

Much like with cooking a really difficult menu for family and friends, organization and planning proved to be the key to success during this search. Together with regular and institutionalized feedback-loops with the client. Rob and myself started organizing strict schedules, agreed on individual tasks and adherence to timelines. Discriminating the ‘must-have’ ingredients of the main-course from the ‘nice-to-have’ side-dishes. The famous five-legged-sheep.

Using the Fitch assessment methodology, we agreed with our client’s CEO what behavior and which values would contribute most to the further progress of the company. Taking this ‘recipe-‘approach would later during the process proof valuable. After profiling the 5-legged sheep, we activated our international network and our network’s network. Although face-to-face meeting are highly preferable, both Skype and FaceTime proved perfect alternatives in these circumstances. It saved time, travel and other inconveniences. The longlist was finalized already in week 2.

In full cooperation and transparency with our client’s CEO, we identified talent with varying degrees of proficiency, drive, emotional intelligence and other factors which determine success. From that talent pool, 5 people that could do the job, could do the job in this environment and could do the job whilst helping themselves with fulfilling their own ambitions were identified. Those 3 elements are – according to our philosophy – always key to success in any sustainable cooperation.

Having the shortlist ready and agreed upon in week 4, by the end of week 6 all initial interviews with the client, second round interviews and occasional third round interviews were finished. The final decision by the client took a weekend and a Monday-morning. Obviously, given the seniority and importance of the role, that decision was taken carefully. Already in week 8 though, the negotiations took place and the deal was closed.

Conclusion; Can I identify, attract and hire a senior business leader within an internationally operating company, overcoming boundaries in physical presence, limited availability of clients and candidates, within a limited time frame?

Of course I can…Challenge me.

I wish you enough,

Harmen Stakenburg


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