Executive Search - buy judgement not ninjas

Published: 31 January 2017

‘Sourcing ninja’, ‘talent guru’, ‘specialist in unlocking hidden talent’; these are all titles that in the main fall into the bucket of marketing veneer. It is typically baseless, designed to instil more smoke and mirrors into an industry that requires a little more truth and a little less smoke! There are subsections of the recruitment market that require recruiters to display a deep understanding of a variety of platforms (GitHub etc.) and routes to talent to source the much vaunted hidden talent; software engineering being a prime example. However the truth is that most of the ‘hidden’ talent is hiding in plain sight on databases and LinkedIn. If a firm has a substantial and current database, a research team with a mid-high skill level on manipulating LinkedIn and a solid understanding of advertisement, the candidates will invariably be found. This reality is amplified in senior management and executive hiring and in my opinion should not be touted as a market differentiator – it should be a given.

My thoughts turned to this subject as a friend recently asked me what I felt were the next big trends in the recruitment industry. While I thought the matter over he told me that his organisation (not recruitment) had recently started engaging with IBM Watson to unlock previously unseen talent. I had not heard of Watson being utilised in this capacity so was keen to learn more. What I found was that IBM believes ‘cognitive technology’ could support HR functions in sourcing, recruiting and retaining candidates. What was interesting was that my friend was under the (not uncommon) impression that Watson and other technologies are being used primarily to ‘uncover’ or find talent not recruit it or retain it. 

All too often I hear the view that if we could only uncover more people, the talent conundrum will be solved. Simply identifying people is important, how you approach and attract is more important but the fundamental and difficult task is hiring the person most likely to make a sustained and significant impact. I can assure you Google and Facebook require very few ‘talent ninjas’ or ‘sourcing hackers’ to supplement the 1m+ CVs they receive a year. What they focus on is rigour in hiring the person most likely to make the desired impact, requiring a blend of professional opinion, skills testing and relevant data points.

In answer to my friend’s question I replied that the next meaningful innovation will be the application of data and information to support a skilled Consultant’s professional opinion on candidate suitability (and maybe one day replacing the Consultant wholesale).With the aspiration for hired candidates to stay longer and have more impact; thus increasing value for candidate, client and recruiter. Berwick Partners has by no means cracked this challenge but measuring longevity and impact is an area we are increasingly focusing on. Our ambition being that empirical evidence combined with Consultant skill will increase the quality of future hires for our clients. I for one hope it is an innovation the entire talent community embraces.

Callum Wallace is a Consultant at Berwick Partners, he specialises in recruiting senior management and leadership positions in the Technology sector.

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