In-House Executive Search in 2019: A Discussion

What are the challenges faced by in-house executive search teams in 2019? We brought a number of executive search leaders together for breakfast at the British Medical Association in central London to discuss the common themes and how technology is (or is not, as the case may be) transforming executive search.

Attended by over 30 in-house talent acquisition and search professionals from global organisations such as Nokia, Refinitiv, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Skyscanner, the event hosted a diverse cross-section of senior leaders from industries like financial services, travel and management consulting, e-commerce, luxury fashion, and technology.

Firstly we heard from Jon Ridout, Head of Executive Search at BT, who spoke about the challenge of underinvestment and need for companies to embrace new technologies to improve talent acquisition processes such as video interviewing, managing onboarding journeys and staying in contact with alumni. Also speaking at the event, Alexa Bailey, International Executive Talent Acquisition Lead at Visa, spoke about the power of diverse leadership teams and innovation in executive hiring. Diversity of skillset and cognitive diversity, she discussed, is paramount to building strong leadership teams.

Here, we recap the main learnings of the day, highlight the obstacles to true innovation in in-house executive search and talk about the technologies that are really moving the dial towards change.

3 Key Trends in In-House Executive Search

1. Growth in In-House Executive Search has not always led to significant investment

A growing number of companies are seeing the merits of creating an in-house executive search team that typically report into a Head of Talent Acquisition or into a CHRO. Many companies see the model used by Nike, Coca-Cola, Disney and Walmart as one they could also emulate.

But while the number of companies creating an inhouse search practice is increasing, the professionals leading the functions remain fairly new to in-house roles. In a review of 100 Heads of Executive Search, 42% were not in an in-house search roles 5 years ago, with that number rising to 88% if we look back 10 years.

One of the biggest challenges in-house search leaders face is underinvestment from the business. Jon Ridout from BT spoke of the need to work creatively within the HR and Talent ecosystem and the balance between using broader HR systems or securing funding for specific exec search solutions.

Alexa and the team at Visa have taken proactive steps to ensure there is a good balance between external and internal appointments. In the past two years, internal talent mobility has featured highly on the Executive Talent Acquisition radar, with an impressive focus on gender diverse balanced short lists. When asked to vote, the majority of attendees agreed that investment was the most significant factor limiting the growth of inhouse search.

2. New Technologies Across the Executive Search Process

HR technology is a hot topic with a reported $40bn (Sierra-Cedar 2018 HR Systems Survey) being spent on HR Technology in 2018, a third of which is being spent on startups. The growth in the space has resulted in new products being launched to improve, streamline and innovate the search process.

In-house search leaders spoke of the saturated CRM and ATS markets with products like Avature, SmartRecruiters, WorkDay, Beamery, Invenias and Smashfly all being mentioned. However, many organisations find it difficult to navigate through the quantity of products and in general find products that are relevant to executive search are limited resulting in continued reliance on Excel as a useful short-medium term solution.

Where technology is being introduced, there was evidence that solutions cover the entire recruitment life cycle such as Hirevue’s video interviewing service, Sparkhire’s scheduling software, Hirebright’s compliance and background screening and Hibob’s effective onboarding.

However, in-house search leaders argued that there was a distinct lack of innovation from traditional executive search firms and the majority of attendees voted that tech innovation was most needed at candidate identification.

3. Diversity Hiring – Gender, Background and Skill Set

Diversity is something that almost all in-house executive search leaders list as a challenge, but also an opportunity. Alexa recognised this being a key priority for growth at Visa with 60% of executive roles being filled by women in Europe, for both external or internal moves. In order to achieve this, Alexa and the Executive Talent Acquisition team have found success in hiring from sectors that are analogous to Visa; fintech, retail, consumer, tech and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industries to name a few.

While hiring gender diverse executives is a priority across most industries today, leaders also spoke of the need to bring in new skill sets and backgrounds. Companies like Skyscanner are looking outside of tech companies and at CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) corporates, while TfL are look beyond transport and into Oil & Gas businesses, Pharmaceuticals and Retail for new leaders. However, identifying and engaging a diverse talent pool is not easy.

It is evident that in-house executive search is only going to grow as a function and as an influence on organisations throughout 2019 and beyond. While there remains challenges with investment, buy-in from boards and finding the right technologies to boost efficiency, there is increasingly an appetite from organisations to become more self-sufficient with their senior hiring.

Technology will continue to be a key pillar of the success of in-house teams, with sophisticated ATS and CRM systems becoming more commonly used, and platforms like Winter Circle being built to deliver executive research and diversity projects digitally.

Adam White is the Co-Founder and COO of Winter Circle. ‘Harnessing the Power of Technology in Executive Search’ was an event held by Winter Circle in partnership with the In-House Recruitment Network.

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