Vera’s views published on : Industry Trends in 2014 and Beyond

20 October 2014

SEARCH - The Global Executive Talent quarterly from the AESC - has published an article titled Industry Trends in 2014 and Beyond, written from the point of view of Vera, Managing Partner of PHOENIX.  See the full text below.

We’ve all witnessed huge changes in the executive search industry in the past two decades. Not only significant advances in technology, but also in terms of a transformation in how companies operate and individuals live and work. This article will present some key observations regarding these changes: the importance of direct contact, the impacts of globalization and the increased emphasis on cultural and gender diversity.

The Importance of Direct Contact

Some of us still remember the days of researching companies and potential candidates from hard copy volumes of company directories. Today the ease of access to information via the internet has revolutionized our task, both in terms of time and effort. We have more access to records on turnover, structure, product lines and worldwide presence and as a result can build carefully researched target lists and gather in-depth market intelligence. However, we have learnt that we cannot always take this information at face value. Often corporate websites over-simplify structures and some are just not up-to-date. While marketing and sales organizations may be visible, other functions such as R&D or engineering are often concealed.

In addition, we are now able to get direct access to potential candidates via professional networking sites such as LinkedIn (global), Xing (DACH region), Viadeo (France), etc. Senior-level executives and those in highly visible roles tend to keep their public profiles up-to-date, but we often find that lower level executives or those in less visible or specialist roles, do not.

The end result is that nothing beats old fashioned leg-work – picking up the phone and making direct contact with people in the know to clarify company data and candidate profiles. In our opinion the personal touch requires winning people over and careful listening, and is still a key factor in delivering the best shortlist of candidates.


We have noticed several consequences of the growing economic and cultural globalization.

The increased pace of M&A activity, joint ventures and alliances between companies means we have to be more careful when it comes to off-limits issues and we need to be aware of more complex role responsibilities and candidate loyalties. For example, we recently contacted candidates in the automotive sector in China who were working in a long term joint venture project. One of these joint venture companies also had joint venture activities with the client. This meant that we had to handle the contacts with careful attention to confidentiality.

Over 15 years ago national executive search firms focused on local search assignments and had exposure to a broader market only through their international partners within their network or multinational organization. Today we find that local executive search companies increasingly manage Europe-wide and global assignments themselves. Technological advances have changed the way we communicate and have resulted in a broadening of the geographical search for candidates and in being able to centrally manage this more efficiently. The world is truly flat!

Candidate Diversity

In general, hiring companies and executive search firms have become more open to considering candidates from a wider cultural background. As searches for highly specialized skills have become more common, prejudice is just not possible. There are of course occasions when a hiring client specifically requests a new hire from a particular background, for example, where they want to diversify their department which is currently too populated by one nationality. Increasingly we find talent in countries which have suffered as a result of the financial crisis. Fortunately, clients are also more open to consider well qualified candidates from further afield, especially where the willingness to relocate is a search issue. For example, in a recent search within the renewable energy sector, where the job base was a particularly remote and unpopular location in the Nordics, we struggled to generate interest from candidates in neighboring countries. We advised the client to consider searching outside their initial geographical brief, and approached candidates within southern European countries where job security was under threat and where relocation might, as a result, be less of a blocking point. And indeed, the hired candidate resulted from this more creative and flexible search.

However, we still see evidence that some companies and individuals find it hard to let go of cultural stereotypes. Being sensitive to different cultural quirks is a huge advantage in getting people on board and closing the deal. Gender diversity has become a big issue, not least because of increasing pressure from the EU and the threat of quotas for the proportion of women on boards. We have seen a strong increase in the search assignments for senior female executives across all functions, not only in senior general management or sales and marketing roles, but also in more technical functions such as R&D, engineering and IT. More frequently clients are keen to build a talent pipeline of female only candidates, or at least a proportion of the short-listed candidates are required to be female.

Respectful Relationships

Since 2009 the executive search industry has come under increasing pressure from clients to deliver results more quickly and at less cost. The only way to beat this is by staying on top of the game, listening to client needs and adapting where possible. We have adapted by being even more proactive than usual in guiding and advising clients on where to focus research efforts in order to deliver maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Increasing pressure on budgets mean the ‘nice to haves’ are a luxury - it is not always possible to promise the moon and deliver the stars. However, where strong trust has been built up, a more creative solution can be found which still delivers results. For when all is said and done, success in our business comes down to professional and respectful relationships, with both candidates and clients.

About Phoenix: Vera has been Managing Partner of PHOENIX since co-founding this Europe-based research company to the executive search industry in 2001. Vera believes in the strength of a diverse workforce. She is a motivating leader who leads by example. PHOENIX is a trusted research partner for the executive search industry globally.

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