It may happen to you every few months, or this may be the first time you’ve been called by a retained executive search firm. We’ve called and you’ve responded that you are at least interested in going the next step. What happens next?
First, you’re in control. We understand that you are currently employed and don’t want to jeopardize your current position. At the same time, you’d like to know if this is a better opportunity and a chance to advance your career. Don’t worry about the process spiraling away from you. We appreciate your taking the time to get involved and we want you to be comfortable as the process moves forward. Here’s how you can expect that to unfold:
1. Exchange of paperwork
We send you a position description and ask for your resume in return. This gives you the chance to read about the position and think it over. It gives us the chance to see if your skills, accomplishments, career stability and variety, industries and education combine to suggest that you will be attractive to our client and a success should you join them.
A note on confidentiality: we won’t be sending your resume to our client at this stage. Also, the Position Description we send you is for your use and we prefer that you not circulate it to friends or professional associations. If you decide the job isn’t for you but think it might be right for someone you know, let’s discuss it. We appreciate such recommendations but generally prefer that we initiate contact with the new prospect.
2. Further discussion by phone
If we haven’t identified our client before, we’ll tell you who it is at this stage unless there is a higher level of confidentiality than usual. If we don’t know you from an earlier search, we may ask you to sign an NDA. If you’re interested in the opportunity and we’re interested in you for it, we’ll do a preliminary phone interview. We know you’re busy, but a cellphone call while you’re driving home from the office is usually not the best way to do this. You need a clear connection and some uninterrupted time. We’ll treat the call with the same preparation and respect.
3. Putting your hat in the ring
We may tell the client about you, identifying you as a prospect, not yet a candidate, to preserve your confidentiality.
4. In-person interview
We’ll meet with you in our office or travel to your area. We will ask you to sign a letter at this point (or before) authorizing us to verify your college degree. (We don’t travel without that step.) Some clients are asking for these interviews to be done via teleconference to reduce costs. Generally a false economy, in our opinion, because subtleties and body language come out more clearly in person. In-person is also a better way for us to build our relationship. If this doesn’t work out we’ll want to keep you in mind for other searches. And you may become a client in the future, retaining us to conduct a search to find someone for your department. None of that happens camera-to-camera the way it does person-to-person.
5. Client interview
If we like what we hear in the interview and you think the opportunity could be attractive to you, we’ll ask you to commit to a first interview. We’ll put together a Background Profile describing your career and send it to the client. That’s a report done on our stationery in a standard format. We do not send them your original resume. This is SOP for most fully retained executive search firms and it offers advantages to you including greater confidentiality. More information on this is at the resumes link.
We will schedule you in to the client’s location and brief you on who you’ll meet. This is a good time for you to re-read our Position Description and of course spend time exploring the client’s website and doing other internet research.
After your interview with our client, you’ll call us to let us know how it went. We then speak to the client to hear their reaction, and call you to fill you in.
7. Your “walk in the woods”
If there’s mutual interest, before we schedule a second interview, we want you to think through the prospect of moving to another company, and perhaps relocating, seriously. Don’t go beyond a first interview without a commitment to the process and the prospect of a switch. More on that here:
8. Second round
We’ll schedule you for the next round and again brief you on the participants. We will talk to some of your references prior to this stage. It may be appropriate for you to extend your research into the company to trusted colleagues who will keep your interest, and the position, confidential. This is a good time to focus discussion about compensation. We wouldn’t be talking to you if we didn’t think we could afford you and make it attractive. Let’s make sure we have the same definition of attractive! Let’s check on components of your compensation that need further articulation. If your company has an exotic comp structure that makes your package richer than first described, now is the time to make sure we’re not missing it, not later. After the interview, you’ll again call us, we’ll talk to our client, then circle back to you.
If there’s a third interview, then as they say on shampoo bottles, “lather, rinse, repeat.”
The phrase “reference check” suggests a quick once-over with a few people who spend five minutes on the phone saying you’re a good guy and they’d hire you again. We think that’s a disservice to both client and candidate. A full “reference audit” as one excellent search firm designed and named it, builds a picture of your skills, management abilities, the corporate cultures in which you do well and the personal attributes likely to align with your new professional responsibilities. All this benefits the client of course, but also benefits you, by helping ensure you’re moving to a company in which you’ll prosper. Here’s how to provide a good set of references:. This is the time when we are likely to conduct the bulk of our referencing, other than those at your current company.
10. Offer, acceptance, resignation
You’ve made it through all the interviews. Our client wants you to join their organization. We have probably kicked around preliminary compensation figures with you. Now there will be a formal offer, extended by us or the client, verbally or in person. You’ll indicate your acceptance. If references from your current company are needed, this is when they are most likely to occur. The client will overnight an offer letter that you’ll sign and return, with a copy to us. Sending a separate personal letter reiterating your acceptance and saying something about how much you’re looking forward to working with your new team is a sophisticated, professional gesture. Then you’ll resign your current position. (In-person is the way to do that, with a resignation letter you’ll hand to your boss following your conversation with him/her.) Depending on your old company’s culture, you may receive a counteroffer. The standard advice, for decades, has been never to take one. Here’s why: Now all you have to do is wrap up your work and brief your successor, enjoy a few lunches and dinners from people who’ll miss you, and plan your first moves at your new company.
Welcome to your new company! Maybe to your new home, as well. If you’re relocating, take the scenic route:. Part of the reason you were selected, and you accepted, was that you and the client thought their culture and your attributes would mesh well. Still, integration into a new company often has unexpected twists, and communications is a function in which that can be more challenging than others. Take a look at books and audiobooks like The First Ninety Days. Let us know how it’s going. We like to stay in touch with our successful candidates for at least the first two years. Expect to talk to us monthly at first, then over increasing longer intervals. At some point, you may upgrade or replace one or more of your direct reports. We’d be happy to have you as a client at that point, conducting a search for your department to make your whole team and program more effective. Please tell us about your promotions, too! Congratulations!