by Ryan Morgan
Senior Associate Recruiter at Charles Aris Inc.
While I’ve never been asked the question, I know many business leaders faced with the challenge of hiring the right finance or accounting professional for their organization are thinking, Who are the best Finance & Accounting search firms?
A sensible follow-up question: How do I know if my go-to search firm is the best?
Search firms come in all shapes and sizes and areas of expertise. Some recruiting organizations provide clients with experience in particular industries and others are familiar with specific job functions. The right answer for the above questions starts with another question: What makes the most sense for my company?
Understanding what you as a business leader value in a search firm is the only way to determine who will be the best recruiting partner for you. Determining the characteristics of a top search firm in Finance & Accounting can be challenging, so here are a few factors to weigh in your decision making:
A trusted partner
Whether your search firm is an industry expert or a functional expert – or both – you as a business leader must feel confident in valuing them as a trusted partner. To succeed, a recruiting team must be capable of establishing a partnership with their client.
Search isn’t simply about producing résumés which may turn into people whom you may or may not like and potentially into professionals who may be successful in your company. Recruiting is, most importantly, about understanding the business repercussions of a critical hire; determining the best strategies to uncover these hidden talents; and, above all, engaging in meaningful conversations with the true A-players to sell them a new opportunity that may take them 2,000 miles from their friends and family.
If you as a business leader can sleep well at night knowing that regardless of the complexity of a role, regardless of the perceived challenges surrounding any hire and regardless of the cost, your search firm will find you the absolute best A-players to join your organization, then you have a trusted partner.
Finance & Accounting experience
While not a necessity for a true search firm, having hands-on experience is an added value when it comes to recruiting A-players in Finance & Accounting. Industry experience is an added value when it comes to truly understanding the core skill sets of an A-player and how to separate the great from the merely good.
Take my partner, Jim Etling, for instance. Jim leads our Private Equity Portfolio and Finance & Accounting recruiting practices and has been in the search business for eight years. Prior to entering the recruiting field, Jim was a CFO for more than 20 years, operating as the lead financial executive for multiple equity sponsors for six of those years. While his clients hire him to fill their most critical senior-level financial positions because of his search expertise, they can take solace in the fact that Jim has lived their work lives for decades and understands what makes a great portfolio finance executive.
A proven process for uncovering talent
The above thoughts are critical, but the most valuable piece to understand is the process that your search firm deploys to uncover talent on your behalf.
First, A-players in any given industry or function typically are not individuals who clock in at 9 a.m. and clock out at 5. They are not the ones who come home groaning about the misery in their “job” and then spend an hour or two each evening perusing job boards and career websites. Rather, they have their heads down, fully focused on the tasks at hand and the necessary skills they can hone to continue their career progression. Whether they do not have the time or simply do not take the time, they are not looking at job boards, LinkedIn postings or spam emails.
These individuals must be found. They must be sought out actively and in a politely persistent manner. While A-players are rarely looking for a new role outright, they typically are happy to engage in a meaningful conversation about an opportunity that could provide them significant career growth at a more accelerated pace than their current organization. To prevent having to “boil the ocean” to uncover the talent you seek, your search partner should be able to understand any role’s core competencies, any organization’s culture and any underlying assumptions in order to narrowly target a group of professionals who not only will be able to do the job but will be successful in doing the job.
This ratio is not a figure that most organizations track in the world of recruiting – and one of the main reasons why is that, at any given search firm, it usually isn’t that good a number. It is not generally a ratio that most firms would be willing to advertise to prospective clients or to sell as a value proposition.
As a business leader, you have the right to know and should simply ask any firm you are vetting, “What is your interview-to-hire ratio and how long how you tracked that figure?”
What this statistic tracks is pretty simple: how many individuals, on average, you as a business leader must interview in person before making a hire. If you were to ask any of your colleagues, it’s just about guaranteed that most would prefer to interview a smaller number of formal candidates than not.
Consider the monetary costs alone which are associated with an in-person interview: candidate travel and lodging and various other expenses, plus the sheer time taken away from your core responsibilities and those of your team. The costs of interviewing candidates add up quickly. These costs only increase the higher you hire.
Most executives do not think about hiring as an example of less is more. But if your search firm is a trusted partner; has particular expertise in your field; and has a proven process for identifying talent, then you should be able to sleep well, knowing you are making the right decisions while addressing your most critical hiring needs.
Hiring leaders in Finance & Accounting can be a daunting task – and downright overwhelming for some. If you are faced with these decisions, step back and think about what you are trying to accomplish and what you value most in accomplishing your goals. Then go out and find a recruiting partner who adheres to those same principles.