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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

A strong and compelling employer brand is critical for companies seeking to attract top talent. This is essential to the company being viewed as an employer of choice and a preferred place to work. When a company engages an executive search firm to help identify and recruit senior talent, the firm's approach and response to the market can either benefit or hinder the brand.

The employer brand represents a company's reputation as an employer, including the characteristics that make it distinct and enhance the employee experience. Though a company may present to the market as being a top employer and a great place to work, it is important to determine whether or not the executive search firm is reinforcing that image.

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Employers need to ensure that the executive search firm they engage will properly represent them. They need to be confident that candidates will be treated respectfully and responsively throughout the recruitment process. Otherwise, they risk negative word-of-mouth that will damage their image. With today's electronic and social network capabilities, this can be greatly amplified by candidates sharing their experience across a broad spectrum and network.

Employers would likely be surprised to know how often the executive search firm that they have engaged has created for them a highly negative impression in the market due to inadequate research prior to candidate approaches. This occurs most often in the case where such executive search firm has a process of extensive delegation of responsibility for candidates to staff who have not been adequately familiarized with the client and the role in question for which the firm has been engaged.

A major complaint about executive search firms comes from potential candidates who have been approached by such firms for no appropriate reason, as in the case where such potential candidates are, in fact, not qualified for the role in question. In addition, such candidates are often (coyly) not even informed by the executive search firm as to whether or not they are being contacted in their potential capacity as a candidate or as a source for other candidates. This occurs due to the researcher involved in the assignment not having properly done their investigations and background research prior to making the initial call or electronic communication regarding a position. This makes the researcher appear to be ill-prepared in the mind of the approached candidates and as having done poor or no preliminary work, which in turn, reflects badly upon the employer. It also can raise unwarranted hopes regarding a potential career opportunity in the minds of the approached candidates, creating further problems and image issues for the employer.

When engaging an executive search firm, employers should verify that the firm's practices are ethical, efficient and protect the client's market reputation. Among the aspects that employers can examine are the following:

  • The executive search firm invests significant time and resources to gain an appreciation of the company’s corporate culture, environment and values, and learns what makes its employer brand as valuable and enviable as it is.
  • Communication between the executive search firm and potential candidates is open, clear and ongoing.
  • Recruiters need to respond to all communications from candidates in a timely, respectful manner.
  • The firm’s recruiters have the capacity to effectively cultivate and build solid relationships with candidates.
  • The executive search firm has in place a professional, efficient and timely process. An inefficient recruitment process can lead to frustrated candidates, which in turn can damage the brand.
  • The firm’s interview process is seamless, well-structured and designed to elicit information from the candidate that will assist in predicting future performance.
  • Recruiters do their homework before contacting potential candidates. A company’s reputation will not be well served by recruiters who are contacting anyone and everyone without determining beforehand whether or not they are appropriate candidates. Employers would be surprised to know how often the executive search firm that they have engaged has created for them a bad impression in the market due to inadequate research prior to candidate approaches.
  • A major complaint about executive search firms comes from potential candidates who are approached by such firms for no appropriate reason, as the potential candidate is not qualified for the role in question. This occurs due to the researcher not having done their homework and research prior to making the initial call or electronic communication regarding a position. This makes the researcher look ill-prepared, which in turn, reflects badly upon the employer. It also can raise unwarranted hopes in the minds of the approached candidates, creating further problems and image issues.
  • The executive search firm is highly ethical in its treatment of candidates. As an example, a firm that submits a candidate’s resume to an employer without the former’s consent has breached the trust of the candidate. The candidate has the right to maintain complete control over his or her information, regardless as to whether or not they forwarded their resume or curriculum vitae to the firm. This behaviour on the part of the firm can negatively impact the candidate and reflect poorly on the employer.

Congruency between an executive search firm's recruitment processes and the employer brand is critical. Not only should employers consider the firm's track record, relevant experience, recruitment strategies and understanding of the business, they must also consider whether the firm appreciates its role as the company's ambassador to the candidate market, and as the representative of their employer brand.

Richard Wajs is president and CEO, TWC International Executive Search Limited

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