Ingrained Expectations, Forensic Search and a Sixth Sense. Drayton’s Nick Maughan and Wayne Mabbott reveal some executive search trade secrets
WM: This kind of call is always nuanced and can be challenging. But, for me, experience as a senior-level search executive is the key part of getting the decision right.
NM: When you have a great person sitting in front of you – a truly exceptional candidate – it’s tempting to ignore the signs of why they may not be right for that particular role. That’s when you have to take a step back. Ask yourself: are they actually a perfect person for this specific position? Will they really solve problems or, in the longer term, create them? A decision like that can, in my experience, be the hardest kind to make. That's where the consultancy-style approach we adopt at Drayton comes into its own. With less forensic recruiters, for example, if the candidate looks good on paper then, often, no matter what, they’re going to put them forward.
WM: For me, that’s a situation that can often arise with CEO and MD-level candidates who have extensive ‘corporate’ experience but are thinking of switching to a senior role in a smaller, more entrepreneurial company.
NM: Good point. A company called Faith in Nature that I work with – a fast-growing SME – always has lots of people wanting to work there whenever a position comes up. Strong candidates who are really excited by that type of very contemporary business and brand – ethical beauty and personal care products. Often, the ones who work for big FMCG corporates, their beliefs, behaviours, habits of work wouldn’t be right to take on a role in a smaller organisation. They have ingrained expectations of spending big budgets on research, or scaling the career ladder or are used to lots of delegation. That immediately, to me, will ring some alarm bells. I know the person in front of me is technically capable of doing the job but, culturally, there's going to be a mismatch there.
WM: Understanding the landscape can change and remaining as close to those changes as possible, that’s always a big part of getting this job right. As the client’s strategy changes I change my tactical approach to align with it. Sometimes the role itself can develop as you are going through the actual search process. You uncover a candidate who seems perfect and then, all of a sudden, they are not. I've been working on a recent brief which has been a bit of a moving target because the company has been undergoing a lot of structural development. That has meant differences in terms of who they think they might need, whether the role itself is a Head of Buying or Buying Director.
NM: Recently, someone I knew asked me for my advice. They were already recruiting directly and thinking about appointing somebody who had been out of the sector for a while. An exceptional candidate but, in my opinion, overqualified for the role. I already knew the person and I said I think they’d be great but have you got enough in your role to keep them engaged for a sustained period of time? On that occasion, they went ahead. Months later, now back in the industry, the person left for a more senior position elsewhere.
WM: Experience, again. In time, as those situations arise, you develop a sixth sense – you just know.