The View From the American Side of the Pond

Editor’s note: Fordyce presents two very different and contrasting perspectives on recruiting as practiced by American search firms. The articles were first published in our print newsletter The Fordyce Letter.

Today’s article by former Pinnacle Society president Kathleen Kurke is a response to the original  post by Adrian Kinnersley. He heads the New York office of fast-growing UK firm Twenty Recruitment.

Kinnersley’s article appeared yesterday and can be accessed here.

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Kathleen Kurke
Kathleen Kurke

Welcome to our industry colleague from across the pond! I am glad to learn of another recruiting resource available to clients and candidates, and I am glad to read that their intent is to pursue a business strategy of client focus and high integrity. Once they get deeper into the US marketplace, I think they’ll find they are in good company.

The observations Mr. Kinnersley reports don’t resonate with what I have experienced during my 24 years as an executive recruiter; 17 years of those as a member of the Pinnacle Society, with the last four as president.

The Pinnacle Society is the nation’s premier consortium of top recruiters within the direct placement and search industry. For more than 20 years, the Pinnacle Society has provided the nation’s top recruiters a forum in which to exchange the business principles and placement techniques that led them to achieve, and allows them to maintain their success.

Limited to 75 of the top executive recruiters in North America, Pinnacle Society members are incredibly diverse in terms of their demographics, their specialties and their dispositions. What they have in common, though, is a history of verified high performance; they have all been in the business for a minimum of five years, have cashed-in more than $400K for three of the past five years, and have references from other respected colleagues.

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Even beyond the performance requirements to qualify for membership, what Pinnacle Society members have in common is a set of business practices that keep them well-paid because they do good work for their clients.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about Pinnacle Society members:

  • They’re incredibly focused on delivering results. Delivering results for their clients, who are looking to hire people of talent to help advance the company’s goals. In some cases, Pinnacle Society members are producing those results while working on a contingency basis for their clients, and often they’re engaged on retainer.
  • They’re specialized. I know Pinnacle Society members who define their specialty in terms of the function they recruit, e.g. accounting and finance talent, human resources talent, or sales talent.

Others define their specialty in terms of the industry they serve, e.g. the paper industry, the construction industry, the textile industry or the convenience store industry. Others define their specialty in terms of the level of the role, e.g. CxO or VP and above.  And, still others define their specialty in terms of their location or geography, e.g. being the best at recruiting administrative assistant professionals in Atlanta.

And, the Pinnacle Society members who describe themselves as generalists specialize in exactly that – applying a recruiting inquiry and process to every search that ensures results regardless of the roles.

  • They’re tenured. It requires at least five years of experience in the recruiting industry to qualify for consideration in the Pinnacle Society, and many of the members have far more years in the industry than that. (I have already admitted that I’ve been recruiting for the past 24 years, but I started in the field when I was two years old.) Many of the behaviors cited in Mr. Kinnersley’s article don’t breed tenure, so perhaps natural attrition will thin the crowds of recruiters not delivering quality results for their clients.
  • They’re experts. Pinnacle Society members know as much or more about players and issues within their specialties than the clients and candidate with whom they work. In dialogue with 50+ people a day in their specialty, Pinnacle Society recruiters spend all day, every day asking and learning about the issues and trends that influence their clients’ business success. They’re experts because they are curious and always learning. And, they’re experts on getting good talent hired. As talented as many clients are in making good hires, recruiting, screening and hiring is Pinnacle Society recruiters’ only job. For most clients, getting good talent hired in only one of the many responsibilities they juggle.
  • They’re in it for the long haul. Most Pinnacle Society members tell stories about client organizations they’ve worked with for 5, 10 and 20 years. Others can share stories about hiring executives they’ve worked with for years in a variety of client organizations and candidates they’ve stewarded through multiple career moves.
  • They’re honest and straightforward. When they tell a client they’ll recruit a certain type of candidate, they do it. On time and on budget. When they aren’t the right resource to help a client find the talent they need, they’ll tell them that, also. When they tell a candidate that they can’t help them, it’s an honest way of setting expectations and freeing the candidate from wondering if they’ll get a return call or access to an opportunity for which they’re not a fit. They deliver honesty to their candidates and clients; they expect honesty from candidates and clients.
  • They’re obsessed with self-improvement. The Pinnacle Society exists because its members are committed to ongoing learning and improvement, and each of our conferences are packed with sessions focused on improving our abilities to help our clients make better hires to advance their business. Most Pinnacle Society members are also involved with other recruiting associations, and many are active participants and leaders in industry trade groups associated directly with their client industries.
  • They give back. Pinnacle Society members, known in the industry as “Big Billers,” are generous. When you ask a Pinnacle Society member about their proudest moment, they are as likely to share a story about a recent bike ride to raise money for cancer, or a mentoring program they established through their church, as they are about a big placement. When you ask a Pinnacle Society member about what they value most about their membership in Pinnacle, most will tell you stories about how generous others were in sharing information.

I think Mr. Kinnersley’s suggestions to the US recruiting marketplace are sound. There are many professional recruiters in the US marketplace, Pinnacle Society members among them, who are already drinking the coffee he recommends we wake up and smell.

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1 Comment on “The View From the American Side of the Pond

  1. Kathleen: Like Adrian, you make a very valid argument. Attrition within the industry has been going on since I began in 1992 (I was 8). There will always be attrition, especially when the economy tanks. That’s the best way to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are many search professionals I’ve know for years qualified to be part of your Pinnacle Society that just aren’t interested in taking time to be part of a group like that, but still follow the guidelines you’ve mentioned.

    The 64 thousand dollar question I have is what percentage of the 75 do retained work and what percentage do contingent? Can you produce that figure?

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