Why the Successful Executive Recruiters Dismiss the Big Data Craze

Written By Andrew Slade

Within the past decade we’ve witnessed the business world develop an infatuation for “big data” – large data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. And the appeal for big data is certainly justified. It provides businesses and investors with a means to discover consumer trends that might otherwise go unforeseen. Big data can even detect fraud and fuel self-optimizing artificial intelligence.

As it applies to executive recruitment, one would think big data could reveal a multitude of useful trends and patterns: clients’ hiring preferences, more defined market maps, and optimal candidate-acquisition practices within a given industry. And let me tell you: the first search firm able to identify the best candidates for a given client using only market data, algorithms, and databases will rule the executive search industry. But until we are able to quantify the unquantifiable, this is a far fetched dream. So as it pertains to the executive search industry, big data is best regarded as just digits on a screen…and here’s why.

Logistics. When our clients brief us with a job opening to fill, they don’t request a candidate with a specific age, degree, or salary. Very rarely are the required qualifications quantitative. Our clients want candidates with very specific industry experiences and stand-out qualities. They want candidates that demonstrate skills like decision-making, communication, and leadership; and that’s not necessarily the candidate with the most years of experience or highest net earnings. It just so happens that LinkedIn attempts to quantify these skills with their endorsements feature: the number of endorsements being proportional to the degree of skill. However, given that the LinkedIn endorsement process requires nothing less than one click of the mouse, any good headhunter will disregard them.

True leadership cannot be quantified. Headhunters will sometimes use hard numbers like salary, years of experience, and number of direct reports to try to get a better idea of a candidate’s leadership abilities. And while this information is certainly relevant, one’s true leadership capabilities are most often defined by his or her judgment and gut instinct, especially at the C-level. That’s why we carefully screen candidates to ensure that they are not only qualified for the role, but also demonstrate a high degree of competency necessary to succeed with our client.

Personal Connections. A search firm’s greatest asset is its networked connections. While we want to find the best candidates for our clients, we also want to make sure that the opportunity is the best career option for the candidate. Rather than matchmaking candidates via an algorithm or database, we individually assess potential candidates as we go – building our network with every search.