There’s no doubt that hiring at partner level is amongst the most complex, expensive and challenging of recruitment undertakings – and running a quality process can make all the difference. But what are the hallmarks of high quality partner level recruitment practices?
As specialist headhunters with a focus on partner level hiring, we work with clients ranging from top-tier international firms to independent boutiques. They all have their own approaches to hiring partners, but those who do it well share a number of common characteristics – basic rules that anyone can learn from:
Be able to explain why you’re looking to hire
If you can’t answer the questions “What problem is this hire going to solve?” or “What opportunity is this hire going to create?”, then the opportunity is going to appear less attractive to potential candidates. Every quality individual wants to feel that they will be able to make a difference in a new role, so if you can’t explain the importance of the hire to prospective candidates, then the prospect of you enticing the right people to join you will be extremely limited.
Be able to answer the question “why would I join you?”
Whilst it’s important to be able to explain why your firm wants to hire someone at partner level, if you can’t explain why that person would join you, how are you going to sell the opportunity to your target candidates?
It’s vital to start the process with a clear understanding of the intrinsic features that set your firm apart from your competitors. For an international firm, it could be the strength of the global network itself, or the level of referrals between international offices. For a domestic firm, it could be that the partners have more autonomy without reporting into management overseas, or that their structure promotes and rewards collaboration between partners.
It’s rare for us to entice a candidate on the features of the firm alone though. On top of that, there has to be something different about the role itself: whether it’s a strategic leadership role, or there are opportunities to capitalise on the firm’s existing client base, or that the firm’s equity structure means the partner will be better rewarded.
Run an efficient process with regular feedback
The length of a hiring process is not as important as its momentum. We have placed partners who have received offers within two weeks of their first meeting, and others whose interview processes have taken over a year.
The truth is there’s no hard and fast rule on how long a process should take or how many stages it should involve but, as a general rule, most partner interview processes take between three and six months.
Lost momentum on the other hand is probably the number one process killer – failing to keep things moving along at a reasonable pace is simply asking for trouble.
We have worked with firms who take several weeks to come back with feedback after an interview, or allow a month or more to pass between meetings. Clearly, this is not the best way to keep candidates engaged with the firm.
Do your due diligence
Most firms require a detailed business plan as part of any lateral partner process, which directly informs any potential hire’s offer in terms of position and remuneration. As a bare minimum, this will generally include the partner’s past two to three years’ billings and projected portable billings for the first one to three years following a move.
All too many firms leave it there, failing to take references from the clients the partner is aiming to take across with them – to test whether the clients would follow and whether the partner’s projections around the volume of work are accurate.
There is another vital stage of due diligence which some firms overlook – speaking to other partners who have worked with the candidate. It’s very difficult to assess a candidate’s cultural fit based on how they project in an interview situation – how they are perceived by past colleagues is a much more reliable test.
Work in partnership with your headhunter
As headhunters, our role is not only to approach and sell the opportunity you’re offering to potential candidates, but to act as an intermediary throughout the whole process – understanding motivations for making the move, taking feedback at each stage, ensuring that any concerns are addressed, and aligning expectations in regards to culture, remuneration and performance.
The fact is that the firms with the highest success rates in recruiting the partners they want are those who involve their headhunters throughout the whole process. As an intermediary, we are often best placed to uncover any concerns or queries on either side before they become dealbreakers. Too many interview processes fall down when they shouldn’t, all because assumptions were made and never challenged.