The concept of sector specialism is at the heart of headhunting. Whether you are working with a large, multi-sector headhunting firm or a smaller boutique firm, working with headhunters who have deep experience in your sector can make a huge difference to the quality of candidate that you hire.
Large multi-sector headhunting firms who operate in a multitude of sectors are organised into practices around industries – such as financial services, legal, technology, public sector, FMCG and so forth. Like department stores, they offer a broad proposition, but might be stronger in one area than other. For example in Europe, Egon Zehnder are often perceived to be very strong in the financial services sector, whereas Russell Reynolds has a very strong technology practice. If you are unsure about the strengths of a headhunting firm in a particular sector, try asking industry contacts for their opinion – which executive search firms do you hear from regularly? Was it a good experience?
Identifying the sector specialism of smaller headhunting firms is usually much easier. Indeed these firms are usually defined by their sector specialism – usually narrowly operating in a defined sector and using that specialism to differentiate against bigger firms. They are the bespoke tailor competing with the larger department store. Whichever sector your business is in, there will likely be smaller, specialist headhunting firms with deep experience in your space.
A headhunter with deep sector specialism will have a network of friendly candidates they can tap into, who know them from previous projects. Furthermore, they will know where to look for talent within your sector, as well as which companies and candidates to avoid. It will also help the headhunter with pitching the role credibly to candidates as they will know the industry parlance (all sectors have their buzzwords and acronyms!) and be able to give good answers to probing questions.
When choosing between different headhunting firms at pitch stage, be careful when looking at their list of previous assignments, particularly when working with bigger firms. The specific headhunters you are working with may not have personally executed those searches, and the risk of the sector experience being overstated by your project team is higher when you work with larger firms, simply because they have more of a “broader company body of work” to leverage.
Another good idea is to ask for client references, as this is a great way to get to the heart of whether the headhunters in question really do have the relevant sector experience that you require.