Freelance Executive Search Research Assistants

Outsourcing is an amazing development. I’m not talking about offshore sourcing or sub-contracting manufacturing; that’s a different issue that’s really outside my lane. The sort of outsourcing I’m most familiar with is using outside sources to provide an administrative service previously done in-house, generally more effectively and at some cost advantage, often a significant cost advantage.

You can probably think of many examples of how outsourcing has benefited your company. IT. Human Resources (my search partner and I once did several retainer searches for one of the major temporary services which had the HR services contract for UPS. When an employee called the HR department to change a W4 or to check on an insurance claim, the call was answered by the employee in the call center of the temporary services company). Purchasing. Testing. R&D. And, so forth. An effective outsourcing strategy allows the company to reduce (or at least control) SG&A, while concentrating on core operations.

Executive search has “discovered” outsourcing, too. There is a thriving group of freelancers supporting retainer search firms of all sizes. These freelance “research assistants” work on a project/hourly basis locating and screening candidates for their assignments. She (about 95% of them are female. The few males in this business are generally the most technically-oriented and work on assignments with the highest technical and scientific content, often for senior individual contributors) is probably the first person you will speak with when a retainer firm is interested in you. This will be transparent to you; she will identify herself as a member of the firm or as “assisting the partner,” or similar.

Interesting development: Many (maybe even most) of the best researchers have migrated to freelance work, because they have discovered they can make a lot more money independently, rather than as an employee of the retainer firm. Most of the “majors” (the biggies of the search biz), don’t pay their researchers as well as the researchers can do on their own, so they (the biggies) are perpetually losing their best researchers to freelance. (Don’t expect many of them to admit this, BTW. Typically, they are not proud of it and don’t even want you to know about it).

We are the national authority on freelance search research and have been publishing The Executive Search Research Directory classifying them since 1985. We sell the book to search firms primarily, but there are several important uses of the book for job hunting senior executives as well–
–The freelancer (much less well-known than the famous search firm) gets much less mail (like a handful of letters instead of a bag) every day, so your contact has more impact (less competition),
–Many of the freelancers’ “customers” (the search firms paying her to locate/screen candidates), are smaller, stealthier operators, who do not show up on the lists of headhunters you have (or are published anywhere). How do I know that? They (the stealthy headhunters–many of whom also spun off from one of the “biggies”) come to me for the directory, so they can find the best researchers to assist them. These “stealthy” headhunters get plenty of great assignments (use me as an example, if you want. I have three private equity clients with about 100 portfolio companies between them. I have several favorite freelance researchers I use on every assignment), many from clients they developed while working at the major firm. Remember, executive search is a relationship business.
–Because the freelancer turns qualified, interested candidates over to the search consultant for detailed consideration, she might very well be a better contact than the search consultant handling the assignment. (The search consultant wants prospects, not suspects).
–Many of the freelancers have multiple, unrelated search clients, so contacting them is a useful leverage point in your job hunt, as well.
–Many major corporations (who have executive recruiters on staff) have discovered freelance search researchers as well, so contacting the freelancers can be yet another alternate entry point to corporations, as well as exposing you to in-house searches not being conducted by search firms.

There are a several other interesting services the freelancers can provide you, as well–
–Want to know what your references are saying about you? (not what they are telling you, mind you. What about what they will say to a search consultant who really knows how to bore in?). Many researchers will check references for you, present herself as a search consultant considering you for a CEO position (or any position of your choice, for that matter), find out what the reference is really saying about you, and provide you with a written report. This technique has saved the bacon of many executives. You figure it out.
–Here’s one of the most interesting applications (remember where you heard this–It definitely didn’t come from any outplacement firm, for those skeptics/non-believers who see no difference between a marketing-driven strategy and an HR-driven strategy). Knowledge is power. Burn that in. When negotiating, would knowing what your contemporaries (other executives on the same line of the org chart) are earning (or even your boss is earning) be useful information? The researcher will find out this information and report it to you. Let me say this again for emphasis: The researcher can determine what your boss is earning, what the last person in the job earned, and what other executives at the same level in the company are earning.
–How about a briefing sheet on the company and its executives in preparation for your toughest interview?

Each of those research “products” should cost you not more than a few hundred dollars, but could easily be worth $thousands, maybe many $thousands. Interested in freelancers yet?

The Executive Search Research Directory (book and excel file ready for the mail/merge) is $100 (or is included with my aggressive one-hour individual consulting package, along with the corporate and headhunter data to follow my “recipe”).