The Value of an Executive Search Firm

When I began my career in education in 2005, I was excited about the impact I could have on the lives of my students. In 2022, while my love for supporting students remained, I decided that I was ready for a change. I left the comfortable world of education and set out on a course to find a new profession—but what would I do?

I tapped my network and realized that all the skills I’d built as a school counselor were highly applicable in the executive search space; in February of 2023, I found an opportunity to help people realize their professional aspirations with DRG.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. I was a complete outsider who never had any experience in the business world; I had no idea what an executive search entailed, let alone how it could provide value to a nonprofit organization. From all my amazing colleagues and my experience thus far, I’d like to tell you what I’ve learned about the value of engaging with an executive search firm.

Executive search firms have numerous vital assets to offer a nonprofit organization:

Industry Expertise: Search firms that specialize in a specific field, like the nonprofit sector, have a nuanced understanding of the unique needs and challenges of that sector. They understand the competencies and characteristics needed for a successful executive leader and are aware of market trends related to salary and candidates’ search preferences.

Established Network: Experienced search firms have extensive networks of both active and passive candidates; they can reach out to their connections and spend time researching and engaging with sources and potential candidates. Search firms demonstrate a proven track record of successfully identifying top talent and will have a broader reach because of their proactive strategies.

Time and Resource Efficiency: The process of searching for a new executive leader can be extremely time-consuming. By engaging with a search firm, your organization will allow experts to tackle this task while you focus on the mission and vision of your organization. Meanwhile, the firm spends hundreds of hours identifying, evaluating, and hand-selecting the best-fit, most effective talent. They weed out the inappropriate candidates and take on the search’s project management so that the process does not stall and action items do not fall through the cracks.

Thorough Candidate Assessment: Search firms employ rigorous research, screening, interviewing, and assessment strategies to present only the most qualified candidates to their clients. Candidates are vetted for the competencies and skills that you desire; interviews drive at behavioral competency-based questions that match your expressed needs.

Heightened Candidate Caliber: Search firms often have areas of specialty, knowledge of the relevant market, and an awareness of industry-specific trends to consider. They use this expertise and experience to find higher-quality candidates. Firms devote time to meeting multiple stakeholders from your organization to learn about your culture as well as the required characteristics, skills, and professional experiences for your next executive. In the end, they present you with top talent that matches your culture and can provide excellent leadership for your organization.

Until I ventured out to find my new role, I thought of myself as risk-averse; I guess in many ways, I still do. Consider the risks of trying to find that executive leader on your own: if you hire someone for a role that turns out not to be a great fit for your organization, you can lose a lot of time and money—and endure a great deal of frustration.

If you do decide to work with a firm for your hiring search, it’s important to vet them thoroughly: explore their reputation, determine their industry-specific experiences and their approach to sourcing, and evaluate their fee structure and contract terms. Many firms happily provide relevant client references to illustrate how the client’s partnership with a search firm set them up for success. Finally, many firms will also offer a guarantee: an insurance policy of sorts for you. If the placed candidate does not work out within a certain period, the firm will work to find a replacement.

At DRG, we partner with purpose-driven organizations that are making a difference in the world every day. We provide guidance to ensure that our clients know how to conduct an effective, efficient, and equitable search process. We are skilled at managing candidates and having uncomfortable conversations; engaging with a search firm means letting us lead the process so that you can focus on your mission.

As for me, I love helping people find their next leadership roles within our amazing mission-driven partner organizations. I am so happy that I took the risk of making my career change. If you know anyone that is looking to pivot their career, or if they are interested in leading a nonprofit/mission-driven organization, I’d love to meet them!

Shanna Jadwin, Talent Consultant

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