Why we do what we do, and why it works

I should first say that this is an unusual blog for us: it is about Martin Tripp Associates. Apologies. It is a quick story to illustrate how we do what we do. And perhaps why you should ask other recruiters how they do what they do.

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A few years ago, Matt and I left a client briefing, and I was gleeful.

“Honestly,” I said, “I can tell you the shortlist now.” I told him the names of the five candidates I would recommend.

All about us. Again.

“Let’s go through the process,” Matt said. “Then we’ll see.”

Matt went through the process. Alongside scores of others, he approached all five of my recommended candidates. Only one of my picks made the shortlist, and they did not get the job. The job went to someone our research team had discovered, who we had never talked to before.

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I tell this story often at client meetings. While it obviously exposes my hubris, it also illustrates why we place so much faith in the process the company has developed over the years.

I had some good reasons for my over-confidence, I still think. The client was looking for a global leader in an area I knew well, and which reflected my own background. I had recently personally managed a project which involved leadership roles on every continent in analogous sectors. I was exactly in the position of so many hiring managers who think they know the ideal candidate because of their personal network.

But I had neglected a fundamental element of our search process. What distinguishes us from other recruitment businesses is that no matter how well we know the subject area, we never assume we know the best people. (Apologies for the double emphasis, but it is critical.)

In fact, we approach the research on every assignment as if we have never worked in the sector, or on that job function. This sounds massively counter-intuitive. After all, clients pay us a lot of money for our expertise. But we have to distinguish between the process behind the basic research, and the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff at the end: that is where the experience, and our ability to challenge people in interviews, counts.

When we first start a search, we take a highly detailed brief from the client. Every client is different, with specific needs. It isn’t all about the competencies required. This sounds obvious – but unless you really understand the culture and values of the client, you can’t begin a search. The most brilliant product director for client X could absolutely be a disaster for client Y.

Once we have taken the brief, we map the market. Unlike most headhunters, this does not mean just asking other people in MTA who they might know. It means taking a forensic approach to the requirements of the role, and systematically mapping out where we might expect to find analogous skills: for example, where sales cycles might be equally complex, or content relevant.

Then we look for people within those organisations who might match the specific experience we are looking for. And we look for people who might be able to refer us to those candidates: so, we might map the universe of potential clients, rivals, and suppliers who can act as referral points.

It’s pretty exhaustive. Typically, we do not even begin to talk to potential candidates until we have compiled a list of over one hundred people, through desk research and referrals. On average, we talk to over 150 people on every search.

We interview the best of these against an agreed set of questions to ensure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to shine – or fail. Ordinarily, we interview internal candidates alongside external. Our interviews evaluate a given candidate’s values, competencies and achievements. Every interview is attended by two people from MTA, who then separately score the candidate against agreed criteria, and compare notes.

Then we write up the interview notes, typically around six pages, for the shortlisted candidates, against the agreed criteria. If clients don’t have the time to read all that, we include summary boxes which highlight strengths, weaknesses and any reservations we may have.

I know – it’s painful, and painstaking. But that’s our job. If we don’t take the time to make sure we are crossing every ‘t’, dotting every ‘i’, it just means that we are pushing the responsibility onto the client. And our clients are normally already under huge pressure.

We go the extra mile for a simple reason: when we present the shortlist, we need to be confident that every candidate will be able to do the job and fit the client culture. It’s why we have a 96% search completion rate, and why 75% of our placed candidates are still at our client companies after four years.

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So, yes, Matt was right. And it hurts me to say it.

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Martin Tripp

martin@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the mediainformationtechnologycommunications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.