NESC’s top Search executives Jane Marsh and Paul Barrett discuss our search process and its distinguishing features.
“The importance and value of the references cannot be overstated.”
PAUL: NESC’s Executive Search practice is distinctive because of the intensity of our efforts to fully understand each client from a strategic standpoint and to dig deeply into the backgrounds of prospective candidates. Our searches are based upon the knowledge that we develop about where the client needs to be strategically in 3-5 years and what leadership/expertise/skill sets/chemistry are needed to get there.
JANE: In seeking to fill a position, the client usually has an idea about the responsibilities to be handled but that information is too narrow. In partnership with the client, NESC prepares a Position Specification that details the history of the position, its fit within the organization, how the opening developed, responsibilities and the likely career path of someone being offered the job. The Position Specification is a critical document because it represents both the client and NESC.
PAUL: The fact that NESC is a nonprofit organization serving other nonprofit organizations is also a unique and vital feature of our Executive Search operation. The background and experience with so many cultures that NESC people possess gives us the perspective to understand each client deeply. We can combine the strengths of the for-profit and nonprofit environments by focusing on nonprofits’ strong motivational aspects while integrating the for-profit strategic/long-term view and performance metric evaluation.
JANE: We start with a target list of organizations and companies which then is refined to a target list of individuals. We identify executives that we already know with whom we have established relationships and then we begin to make phone calls, building a network to gather intelligence. We find people with specific knowledge of the competencies and experience needed for the position. This is all part of the research process.
PAUL: We start with trusted sources and people in our database as well as research others who may be aware of potential candidates. Referrals are key: many of these conversations yield the names of others to call. In this step, we may make 75 to 125 phone calls. NESC performs original research; we do not use advertising or postings on job boards.
JANE: And an entire search usually entails hundreds of calls. After a few weeks, we have uncovered a number of individuals who have expressed an interest in the position. We engage them in longer, 30 – 60 minute phone calls to evaluate their background and competencies relative to the position specification. If it seems they may be appropriate, we request their resumes. Ultimately, we meet them for a personal interview.
PAUL: We may find as many as 50 candidates who are “interested and interesting.” We narrow that down to 8 to 12 finalists, each of whom we spend multiple hours interviewing. Each candidate must be triangularized, or endorsed by at least three primary sources. We come to fully understand how they would approach the position and make sure that their compensation expectations are in line with the client’s wishes. We also intensively verify their background and qualifications. Every prospect is fully vetted.
JANE: About four to six weeks into the search, we contact the client’s Search Committee with the list of people that seem to meet their requirements in terms of experience, salary and interest in the position. We submit comprehensive paperwork including a “Competency Matrix” which ranks each candidate‘s skills needed for the position and also with respect to functional and industry experience. We also give our evaluations of their personal characteristics and other qualitative considerations. After reviewing the profiles, the client chooses which ones to interview.
PAUL: Even at this stage we do not stop looking for other prospects for the position.
JANE: We arrange the interviews as well as facilitate them. This is a key role. The client then generally chooses three finalists. After the candidates have been interviewed by NESC, we submit a detailed report on each finalist. A comprehensive reference report is also sent to the client on the finalist candidate. We also verify the education and all degrees of that candidate.
PAUL: Included is a 360-degree reference check with nine people: three superiors, three peers and three subordinates. The importance and value of the references cannot be overstated.
JANE: The goal is to end up with a clear first choice, but also with a strong and acceptable back-up. NESC then assists the client in preparing the offer, presents the offer to the candidate and helps to negotiate between the two parties. Obviously, the process ends when an offer is accepted.
PAUL: One final note: many nonprofit organizations attempt to recruit top executives themselves through the internet. Their results are rarely as successful as ours.
Jane Marsh joined NESC in 2009. She has over 30 years of experience in executive search including managing her own search firm and 14 years with Heidrick & Struggles.
Paul Barrett has been with NESC since 2002. His background is in brand management and communications. Paul was a senior account director for several large advertising agencies.