Search Savvy: The next ‘rock star’

Dec 03, 2014

Five facts to consider during the recruiting process at your firm.

Managing expectations in an executive search process can be a burdensome task. After all, you’re eager to quickly find that perfect new team member and move on to the next challenge. Everybody is depending on you. But potential hires don’t come neatly packaged with a bow on top. Here are five things to consider when looking to hire the next “rock star.”
  1. News flash: Good candidates are not necessarily looking for a new job. One thing I’ve learned about finding and identifying good candidates for a potential job change is that in most, but not all cases, they are not looking for a job. Of course, many are open to hearing about other opportunities but normally they are pretty comfortable where they are. The art of recruiting good candidates is getting just enough of your foot in the door with these individuals so that you can sell them on the potential for growth with your firm and maybe even zero in on things they want to do in their profession but are not able to do where currently employed. You have to listen to the small subtle hints that can sometimes reveal to you what it would take for a perfectly happy employee to consider making a move.
  2. Executive search timeframes vary and you have to be prepared for the long haul if necessary. All positions in your firm will vary with regard to the time it takes to find the right person for your team. It may take twice or three times as long to find a CFO, COO or highly specialized position (think Clean Room MEP) that is hard to come by versus the ubiquitous CAD designer or entry level civil engineer (no offense to all of my civil engineer friends out there). Based on this, whether you are working with an internal recruiter or you’ve hired an executive search firm to help, you should be realistic about the time it will take to find the right person. If only recruiting was as simple as a snap of the finger life would be easy. But, alas it is not and you need to be prepared for the ride.
  3. You have to ‘sell!’ the opportunity – especially when you hire a search firm. You will obviously know your company but your recruiter (whether in-house or outside) needs to be able to sell your firm and the opportunity as well as you can. Once you’ve identified someone who could be a fit in your firm you need to make sure you don’t drop the ball by making them feel like you are doing them a favor by considering them for employment. You would never do that with a potential client. You have to sell the benefits of working with your firm and maybe even share some inside information – not “Area 51” information but you know what I mean – to help seal the deal. This is especially true if you hire a firm to recruit on your behalf. You need to make sure they can sell your company and the opportunity almost as good as you can. At the Zweig Group we rarely take executive search work without spending some time with the client, visiting their office, learning about their culture, and figuring out the prototypical candidate who could succeed in that environment. Employee acquisition is not cheap and whether you do it yourself or hire someone you want to make sure you are doing things the right way because, more than anything else in our industry, proper talent acquisition will ensure the future success and growth of your firm.
  4. Timely feedback on presented candidates is a crucial piece of the puzzle. You have to respond to all résumés and requests for info ASAP in order to ensure success in the recruitment process. One of toughest things to do in such a competitive market for top talent is to give feedback on potential candidates in a timely manner. It may seem like common sense but you can spend time and money looking for the right people but drop the ball by not getting back to them or a participating recruiter and managing their expectations throughout the courtship process. Even if you are not sure about a potential candidate you should treat them the way you would want to be treated – and not like a commodity. It’s always easier to be upfront with people about your interest or lack thereof. They will probably appreciate you more for your candor. Obviously, if you are working directly with a recruiter, getting back to them with timely feedback will greatly enhance the speed at which a position can be filled.
  5. Be slow to hire and quick to fire. This doesn’t mean you can take eight months to hire someone because I can guarantee you that in this market they will not stick around, but you get the idea. Sometimes you find what you think is the right person but they end up being a dud. It happens. As painful as it sounds, the more time you spend trying to fix something will ultimately cost you more money than admitting the mistake and pulling the plug and starting over. It will cost you less in the long run. This is the biggest mistake we see our clients make, especially after they’ve spent money and effort trying to fill that Senior Project Manager position. This doesn’t happen that often in our industry because we can usually tell if someone is the “real deal” fairly quickly; because of the discipline experience it’s harder for a mechanical or structural engineer (or architect for that matter) to pretend to be something they are not. It usually ends up being a personality clash or lack of good work habits, which can easily be masked through the search process and sometimes you don’t find out until well after the ink is dry on the employment contract. Again, when these issues arise you should consider cutting ties sooner, rather than later. People can certainly change but you will have to ask yourself if you’re willing to wait for the caterpillar to become a butterfly? The choice is yours. These are just a few of the key ingredients and facts to consider when looking for the next “rock star!” addition for your office. Just remember to listen more than you talk and let the facts stand on their own accord. If you need help or guidance in this area or just want to talk about your recruitment process, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. We are here to serve.
Randy Wilburn is director of Executive Search with Zweig Group. Contact him at or find him on Twitter at @randywilburn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.