Pick-up meetings have been combined into shoot-out meetings, abbreviated, compartmentalized into HR only, delayed due to schedules, and in some cases abandoned altogether. There really isn’t a substitute for this. Visiting your website just isn’t the same as visiting your headquarters. We’re small and strict about off-limits so you we’re not going to poach staff you introduce us to. The bigger cross-section of the company and the department we meet, the better search we can do. The higher we go, the better we can advise on finalists. We know your chairman is busy. If he’s interviewing the finalist, a few minutes with us on the front end will serve him well.

“Where are you going to look?” is not a research plan. We’re eager to make outreaches early in a search, you’re eager to get quick results and we all joke about the client who emails 48 hours into a search to ask “got any candidates yet?” Well, no. And we won’t get the best ones without target lists and feedback. So we “measure three times, cut once.”

Fifteen years ago, there would come a point in a search when research had started to yield a good set of names and beyond that, a picture of the field overall. As that happened, the phrase would go through our heads, or we’d say out loud, “the sea gives up its secrets.” Fast-forward to today, with Google the world’s home page and LinkedIn ours. What’s the role of research in that world? Despite all the talk of transparency, it’s low tide in New York harbor, not the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean. “When the tide goes out, you see who’s swimming naked.” But the tide never goes out that far when we’re talking about talent.

As LinkedIn grew, we looked at our cherished, carefully crafted candidate database, and wondered if it would be obsolete soon (you know, like books and telephones). A few months later we began noticing anomalies in the LinkedIn profiles when compared to our own records. Short stints dropped out. Titles inflated. Date gaps bridged. There’s no doubt that there’s been a shift in the proportion of effort spent in candidate identification and candidate development. But when so much of the universe of data on people is self-published, the need for fact-checking and proprietary information expands. We’ve never been better informed. We’ve never been more skeptical.

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