Why your business might need an executive recruiter for its next opening

Executive recruiters are an extremely important facet of high-level business, which has a huge impact on the D.C. region and its economy. To learn more about how finding the right person for a high value-added job might not be resumes and requirements, we spoke with Lyles Carr, senior vice president of the McCormick Group, who is widely viewed as one of the best-connected and most-respected executive recruiters in the greater Washington region.

ABERMAN: I’ll tell you, and I’m sure it’s the same for you: somewhere there’s a book that says the best way to find a job is to call people that have networks and ask them for help, right?

CARR: There’s actually probably a library full of those books.

ABERMAN: And you’re in the middle of it, because you’re one the leading executive recruiters. What is reasonable for somebody to expect if they call you up, or call somebody like you out blue, saying, hey, I’m looking for my next job?

CARR: I think first, Jonathan, it depends on who they think they’re calling, what they think they’re calling, and the definition between a placement agency versus an executive search firm. An executive search firm works for the employer on an exclusive, committed basis to fill a specific position. Our firm’s unusual in that we’ll occasionally take on an represent and individual as if we’re their personal agent, at the expense of whoever brings them on board, and more often than not that’s into a created position. But that’s a rare person, whose contribution is so definable, so clear to the employer, that they truly are willing to create or modify the position around them.

For the most part, the executive recruiter is working for the employer, on a specific position. And as a consequence, an individual that calls should expect an honest appraisal of the probability that the executive recruiter is going to become aware of a position that might fit their background, and experience, and interest, and that they’re on their radar screen when they do. But it’s not really beyond that. They shouldn’t expect to be quote-unquote working with the recruiter.

Subscribe to the What’s Working in Washington podcast on iTunes.

ABERMAN: Before we go to how you work with a recruiter as a company, it sounds to me that your lifeblood is to have an idea who is not just looking for a job, but who’s doing interesting stuff. So, how do I get on the radar screen of an executive recruiter, if I’m not calling you on the phone?

CARR: Well, I think becoming visible. We did a recent search for a chief library officer, of all things. And so, they wanted somebody innovative, who was on the leading edge of the marketplace. We called all the speakers for the last two years for the conference of the American Library Association. They’re the people that librarians are listening to about who’s on the cutting edge, where the industry is going. Even if they themselves aren’t potential candidates, they certainly know who he is, who in their opinion are the top people out there.

And so, yes, becoming visible, but I think also, becoming a source or a resource. Much like if you’d like to be quoted occasionally in a paper. You’re not calling up to say, I’d like to be quoted in the paper, but you’re calling the reporter to say, I may be a source for you, I’d be able to be a resource, I know something about this industry, and I’d be happy to have you call me if you’d like information, even on background, about the industry.

ABERMAN: So, effectively, dealing or working with a corporate recruiter is really not something you do when you have an immediate need as a job seeker, it’s something that happens organically as being part of a community.

CARR: It’s similar to networking. Networking is not business development, networking is developing your network in advance of when you need to utilize it for something like business development, or finding a position, or those kinds of things.

ABERMAN: Now, let’s turn our attention to the standpoint of the corporation, or the business that hires an executive recruiter. What do you look for in a client, and what are they looking for from you?

CARR: Well, they do have to understand what they’re buying. Are they simply trying to fill positions, where adequate’s enough, or is it a role where the best person who could be drawn to the position is important? Internal recruiting, or placement agencies, may suffice for the former, and executive search firms are there to address the latter. When it’s a specific, important, committed need.

ABERMAN: So it’s a high value-added activity, then.

CARR: It is a high value-added activity and frankly, if it’s important enough to use the recruiter, it’s important enough for the executive manager to whom the position reports to work with a recruiter directly.

ABERMAN: Do you get the sense that people in our community really understand the nuances that you and I just talked about on both sides?

CARR: They don’t. They tend to focus on the job description for the position, and the requirements, who they think the person ought to look like, for instance, to be able to step into the job. When in reality, they need to look at what success will look like for the person in the position. And what will be the things, typically the four or five or six things, that the person needs to accomplish to achieve that success. And we always ask our client, if they can achieve those let’s say five or six things, do you care what they look like? Resumes don’t do the job. Resumes accomplish nothing. We’re hiring a person that can accomplish what’s needed, not a profile that we have in our mind’s eye of what we think that might look like.

ABERMAN: So effectively, what you’re doing is, you’re backing into the skill set that somebody has by defining what success looks like, because if they don’t have the skills, they can’t get there.

CARR: That’s exactly right, and you’re going to see in their background where they’ve been there, done that. What leads us to believe that they’ve got the ability to accomplish those things? But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in their pedigree that they’ve been in that same position. We’ve got a myriad examples of people who came from a different sector, a different industry, that were able to do, that had the skill set and basic experience to accomplish it, that would not have been in the candidate pool, had we simply looked at, here’s the definition or the profile that we think we need.

ABERMAN: This very much echoes what I’ve heard when I’ve talked with people about talent and workforce development, that moving away from titles toward skills is really the place to go in the 21st century economy, which leads me to ask, before I let you go: Sounds to me that what you’ve described is not something that you can just do online or with computer algorithms.

CARR: No. What you want are the top people that are in the market, not just the top people on the market. The top people in the market are happy. They’re productively doing their job. They’re not looking for a job. They’re not responding to postings or other kinds of advertising, and they’re not scrolling through LinkedIn to see who might be posting a job today. Somebody has to call them. You’ve got to really call and present the opportunity to them in such a way that they would respond to something that they see as a more significant role for them going forward.

ABERMAN: So just like tailoring isn’t going away, executive recruiters aren’t going away either.

CARR: Exactly right, no matter how much Amazon sells, custom tailors are still going to be in business.

ABERMAN: Well folks, if you want to understand the custom tailoring of executive recruiting, look out for Lyles Carr. Lyles, thanks for joining us today.

CARR: It was my pleasure. Thank you, Jonathan.