The Role of the Executive Researcher

There are thousands of executive searches happening across the globe. At the outset of each successful placement is the executive researcher. Among the key figures of the executive search process—firm, client, candidate—the executive researcher plays a pivotal role in bridging together each player.

Rachel Roche, Founder and President of Smart Search, sheds light on the significant value executive researchers bring to the profession and how to overcome common challenges.

Rachel Roche

Why is the role of an executive researcher still so important to the profession?

Executive researchers use their knowledge of the client, the mandate, and their prior experience to lay the groundwork for a successful search. They set the search strategy, identify target organizations most likely to yield qualified candidates, and understand job titles and reporting relationships to home in on the “right” person to pursue on behalf of their clients.

I believe that researchers are ambassadors – they represent their client, their firm, themselves as search experts, and our profession as a whole. Because they are the first point of contact with prospective candidates and referral sources, they set the tone for every interaction going forward. 

What is the one mistake/oversight you see executive researchers making again and again?

Executive Researcher

Asking about the candidate’s interest too soon is a very common and self-defeating tactic. Our responsibility is to determine the extent to which someone is qualified, but if we ask about interest before we know about qualifications, we have undermined the purpose of the conversation. Some researchers will describe the client’s mandate and immediately ask whether the prospect would be interested – or whether he/she would be interested in hearing more about it. If the prospect says no, the discussion is over and we have learned nothing about this person. A better approach is to frame the conversation differently – to learn as much as possible about the prospect’s background first.

Which step of the search process do you find executive researchers have the most difficulty with? How can the Certificate in Executive Research help alleviate these issues?

Executive research has many challenges, but if I had to choose one step in the process, it would have to be referral sourcing. Actually, the term “referral sourcing” is a bit of a misnomer because executive researchers can learn so much more than the names of potential candidates. A conversation with an expert can help to validate or focus a search strategy, identify target companies likely to yield great candidates, recommend other sources steeped in the space, and deepen researchers’ understanding of the excellent candidate.

Sourcing is both art and science and because its results are so powerful, we devote an entire session to this topic. We call it “deliberate sourcing” because we believe it should be a separate step in search fulfillment.

Rachel Roche, a recognized industry expert, has more than 30 years of experience in retained search and has designed and delivered live, online, and webinar training to AESC Members through AESC’s Certificate in Executive Research.