It can seem like an expensive and frustrating process. Not one you can control, like building a wind farm, or a sustainable building. There are so many factors to consider and people are unpredictable.

You have hundreds of people offering you their advice. Recruiters calling you up every day. Internal advisers whose job it is to find people for you. But can you really rely on them? When you are building your immediate team, you are the expert.

It is your responsibility. You have been working towards this position for years. Things have gone so well up until now and you were delighted to be given the chance. But now you are stuck. It is distracting you from driving the business forward.

It is distracting you from what you should be doing, the unique value that you bring, what you were chosen for. It is not your area of expertise. And it is overwhelming. It gives you sleepless nights. But without the help you need things will be worse. What should you do about it?

Reading this will show you everything you need to know to get success every time. There is a guaranteed process. It starts by understanding the market. This takes time and effort. It takes detailed analysis and creative thinking. Just like anything else you do that is important in your business. But it works.

Understanding the market

The first thing to do is to look at your own industry. You know who your competitors are. Then consider which other industries or sectors might contain people with the right skills. Then you need to work out which job titles you should be looking at, and at which level.

Then you need to reach out to them. An initial call, an introduction, a Linkedin message, an email. A good proportion will respond positively. Then you can have an initial discussion, where you outline what you are trying to do. If this goes well you can arrange to speak in depth. If not, then you can ask them who else they know who might be good, or might be interested.

You can do a lot by looking at company websites and looking at profiles on Linkedin. About 90% of people are on Linkedin, and you can usually find them by looking up the company and its list of employees. You will find a number of people have not updated their profiles recently or are not on it at all. You will find these people by asking for recommendations.

You can map out an organogram for every company and work out who is at the right level for you, whom they report to and who is in their team. This is factual or objective information. This is necessary.

But what will enable you to really understand it is qualitative or subjective information ie what people think of companies or other people in the market.

Compensation information comes into both. It is an objective number but it tells you how people are valued or what the market position of their company is.

Sometimes this will be a numbers game. By covering off hundreds of people you will find a good group to consider. Sometimes it is a question of hunting down the two or three who are really qualified, and persuading them to talk. If you find yourself looking for that one elusive perfect fit, perhaps you need to think again.

Think of it like a statistical sampling exercise, such as opinion polling. If you have covered half of the market and everyone is out of your price range, perhaps you should rethink the level, the sector or the location that you are looking at.

Or maybe your criteria are unrealistic. You may want to consider which ones you would be prepared to relax, and which ones are really essential. When your ideal comes into contact with the realities of the market, then you will discover who is really right for you.

The Treasure Hunt

Stanislas was just about to take over as the Director General of a French Environmental Business. The UK was a key market for the energy from waste plants that they built. So he wanted to appoint a new Sales Director to make sure his leadership was a success.

We knew there were very few people with the right experience. If we could not persuade any of them to do the job he would be in a difficult situation. The business really needed someone at the front driving sales. It was an anxious time.

We contacted all the qualified people in their competitors. There were not very many. We persuaded several of them to enter into discussions. Fortunately we had caught one of them from a key competitor at the right time.

She was prepared to look outside and knew the strength of Stanislas’ business. After some negotiation she accepted the offer, with the flexible work pattern she was looking for.

They have won some major contracts in the UK market and the business is going from strength to strength. Stanislas’ leadership is a success and they are both delighted to be working together.

This is an example of a very limited market where you have to engage the few qualified people. It is very much a matter of negotiation to land the best person. You need to know your strengths and what you have to offer. And you need to listen carefully to what the candidates are looking for, in order to come to terms.

The Numbers Game

I first met Graham when he had been given the responsibility of finding an MD and Operations Director for the largest Wind Farm in Australia. It was a brand new market for his employer and they had no-one based on the ground. We had a good project to sell but he had no idea what the market would be like. He wasn’t sure what sort of outcome he would get, and was under pressure to deliver.

Wind is a well defined market with a specific technical expertise. We also had a well defined geography so we covered the whole market and came up with a good number of people to chose from. Then it was a question of narrowing down to find out who was the best fit. He was delighted with the range and quality of people we came up with, and handed over the interviews to his boss to decide who to hire.

This was an example where there was a strong range of qualified candidates. The task was to identify and contact them all. Then bring them forward for discussion and assessment. When there is a strong pool you are in the driving seat. You can decide what price you want to pay and what level of expertise and experience you want.

A Reassessment

Gus was leading the mining business of a major global steel producer. There had been a number of serious incidents in the industry including loss of life and environmental damage. This was the result of dams that contained mining waste collapsing. He was under great pressure to make sure nothing like that happened in his company.

So we undertook a global search for the leading experts. They wanted someone to be based in their Montreal Head Office, where there other technical experts were. We found a good pool of ten people to be interviewed. Several of them were a good match but none of them were prepared to relocate.

So Gus and his boss had to reconsider whether the location was more important than the expertise and experience. He managed to persuade his boss to consider a London location, and one of them was able to do that. After a year’s work they was able to rest easy, knowing they had a reliable person to look after a critical area of the business.

The market tells you who is best for you

You will have essential criteria, such as education, technical knowledge, size of responsibilities, employees managed or turnover achieved. There will be other criteria such as the ability to deal with political environments, growth and change, or entrepreneurial skills. You will also have an idea of what you can afford to pay.

But when you go out to market and begin to understand it, then you will find out how many of these are set in stone or have a degree of flexibility. You will find out how you are perceived and how attractive a challenge it is to work with you.

You may be seeking after a highly sought small group of individuals or you may have a good range of choice and options. But it is only when you understand the market for your opportunity that you can begin to make decisions about who is the best person for you.

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