Executive search is often shroud in secrecy; for those outside the industry, its inner workings are left to much supposition. Working behind the scenes, executive search consultants are the movers and shakers of recruitment. Although arguably as interesting, diverse, challenging and lucrative as consulting in any other domain – executive search is a career path rarely publicized or promoted in mainstream avenues. As an industry whose success hinged on the quantity and quality of relationships, executive search has been regarded as a career reserved for the seasoned few. For too long, the archetypal headhunter has been a male Baby Boomer with a lengthy resume of past executive experience. But times are changing! And the most recent change centers on headhunting’s newest recruit: the young, fast-paced, technology-savvy, Millennial.
So, how did I – the notorious Millennial – end up in this industry? Better yet, why?
It goes without saying that it wasn’t through campus recruiting or scouring the job boards that I learned about a career in executive search. In fact, I recall learning what a ‘headhunter’ was over dinnertime conversation with a family member who had received a call from one. It was intriguing to say the least that this ‘headhunter’ was essentially handpicking people to consider a career – and potentially life – changing opportunity. I had never considered a career in executive search until I completed my Masters degree and sought a career that combined my international mindset, interpersonal skills, business acumen, and research capabilities. Upon sharing this goal with a mentor of mine, he suggested I consider a career with one of the large international executive search firms. My career in executive search began in research and has since evolved to recruiting and business development. Along the way I’ve learned that every client and candidate is unique; and every search represents a new challenge and learning opportunity. For me, this continual quest for knowledge coupled with connecting with great people each day, is what makes executive search such a rewarding profession.
As the war for talent heats up and workplace demographics change, I have seen first-hand that executive search has much to offer Millennials; and in parallel, Millennials have much to offer the executive search industry.
So, what can a career in executive search offer Millennials?
(1) Variety & Learning
Many large executive search firms do not specialize in a particular industry. Therefore, new consultants or researchers get an in-depth look into a variety of industries, companies, and roles. No two searches are ever the same. Therefore, the nature of the role requires consultants to become ‘overnight experts’ in a particular domain in order to understand the competitive landscape, industry trends and key players. This variety and continual learning can be attractive to the curious Millennial who thrives when constantly challenged.
(2) Industry Sampling
For the commitment-phobe Millennial who does not want to invest their time in one company nor one industry, executive search is a great way to accumulate a wealth of knowledge without being forced to make a commitment to any one particular industry. Similar to other professional service and consulting firms, executive search offers advisory services to many clients.
(3) Professional Polishing
Every Millennial dreaded those networking events in university but understood making connections were a necessarily evil. Executive search gives Millennials all the tools and professional grooming needed to build and maintain a strong network. It is a special skill to be able to call a CEO and persuade him or her to consider a new career change. Think of executive search as “finishing school” for Millennials; it trains them to have the confidence, content and skills to interact with executives.
(4) Career Clarity
Many Millennials graduate business school wide-eyed and unsure of what role their experiences best lend themselves to. Executive search is a great way to learn the ‘lay of the land’ and understand what an Account Manager or VP Marketing really does.
And what can Millennials offer executive search firms?
(1) Mastery of Social Media
The strength of executive search firms no longer lies in the robustness of their database. The advent of social media – particularly LinkedIn – has completely changed, and for the most part, leveled the playing field. Millennials grew up with social media and are fluent if not expert users. This proficiency is to the executive search firm’s benefit as Millennials have an ease with technology and social media which can be harnessed to locate top talent through these avenues.
(2) Multitasking Magic
Millennials are undoubtedly multitaskers. Growing up with technology and competing priorities, they have learned how to do many things simultaneously and divide their attention accordingly. In the fast paced world of executive search where each hour in the day can be allotted to a different search or activity, it is important to have consultants who are flexible and able to juggle many things at once. Millennials have much experience with multitasking and this is definitely a skill that is required for success in executive search.
(3) Research Skills
The core of executive search is research. It is the search consultant’s job to translate clients’ wish lists into target lists and required competencies into keywords. For many Millennials entering, or new to the workforce, academia has honed their research and writing skills; therefore an early career in executive search makes for a smooth transition from academic life to real life. Deep research into obscure topics is anything but foreign to the recent graduate and these skills are a great fit for success in executive search.
(4) Innovative Outlook
Executive search is undoubtedly a mature industry. Like many other industries of this stage in the cycle, anticipating trends and acting pre-emptively is rarely a focus. Certainly not early adopters of new technology or social media, the executive search industry could use an injection of innovation and fresh perspective. Millennials are known to challenge the status quo and inspire companies to rethink their tried and true processes in lieu of more efficient ones. Millennials can help executive search firms embrace innovation both in terms of technology and mindset. Their unique perspective and creative ideas can add value to this industry that has not seen much disruption.
All in all, the Millennial headhunter injects a fresh lifeblood into the mature industry of executive search. I strongly encourage executive search firms to embrace the new face of headhunting, the Millennial, and what they have to offer the industry. And in turn, I encourage like-minded Millennials to pursue a career in executive search and join me in changing the face of this industry.
Nicole is a Senior Consultant in the Montreal office of Odgers Berndtson, specializing in the assessment, identification and recruitment of senior and executive level talent within a broad spectrum of industries in the Quebec market. Nicole’s international consulting and project management experience, excellent rapport with candidates and strong analytical skills enable her to uncover and deliver top managerial talent to large public organizations, private companies and the academic sector.
Prior to joining Odgers Berndtson, Nicole worked for a multinational technology and consulting organization in Germany where she collaborated on the design, development and delivery of a global employee engagement survey for more than 35,000 employees.
Nicole holds a Master of Science in Management, with a specialization in International Business from the Richard Ivey School of Business. She also completed her Bachelor’s degree in Management and Organizational Studies with a specialization in Finance from Western University.