Profitable specialties come and go, and most people who have been in the business awhile have switched specialties from time to time – usually due to a combination of factors, but most often for economic reasons. The industry or functional area they worked, for whatever reason, tanked. In an industry where two non productive months in a row can drive you out of business, flexibility is a necessity.
Desks are specialized by industry, function, geography, or combinations of these, but it’s generally accepted that geographically specialized desks run the highest risk of eventually failing, simply because geography, by its very nature, is something fixed, inflexible, and subject to nature, man made disasters, or being too closely tied to one industry (please search: “hurricanes” “oil spill” “Detroit automotive”). However, there’s something to be said for firms which dominate their local markets. I know several owners who will not work outside their office’s immediate geographic location, and over the years they have become the “go to” guys in the industry for their locations. Most of these firms have desks specialized by function, but they generate all their business from the local marketplace. I admire these firms for how they have become dominant locally.
It’s also always better to look into the eyes of someone who cuts you a five figure fee; something local desk specialists can and should do. But I’ve found that I would rather have a few people in a lot of places cutting those checks than a lot of people in one place paying me, despite all the benefits of deep relationships with “clients” (note: quotation marks because I believe there is no such thing as a “client” in this industry). To my way of thinking, there will always be the need to spread out the risks so that one dumb oil company, or hurricane, or some other geo specific thing knocks me out of business. That said, my firm places by geography, but we do it in a different way: we take great candidates, find out where they want to go, then place them within 30 miles of exactly where they want to live, and usually within just 30 days [“30/30 Placement Program™”].
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I’ve often wondered why anyone would perform “searches” anymore, which I did for my first eight years in the business. Why not simply “place”? Searches and job orders are means to an end…placement. The quickest way to make placements, good economy or bad, is to find a great candidate and place him/her exactly where they want to live and work. After 26 years in the business, I know that most people will accept a less than ideal position in their most ideal location before they will accept an ideal position in their less than ideal location. Also, solid placements result when you put someone into the city or town where they most desire to live and work. We recently placed a Navy lieutenant for 50k in his top location when he had an offer of 63k in his second favorite location. The other recruiter could not believe it. That is the norm, not the exception.