Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates, a European Executive Search and Leadership Solutions boutique. Pierre is working out of Brussels, Paris and Zurich.
An increasingly common misperception is that there is no need for executive search firms when companies can find all of the information they ever needed about a candidate on LinkedIn.
Without a doubt, LinkedIn does plays an important role in the executive search process. Tools like LinkedIn Recruiter, which I use, can help provide basic information on a candidate and his or her history—information that was more difficult to find prior to the advent of LinkedIn. Additionally, there is a level of public validation to a LinkedIn profile, meaning candidates willing to lie or exaggerate must be willing to do so in full view of their entire professional network.
However, here are a few of LinkedIn’s limitations when it comes to the executive search process.
1. Executive candidates might not be on LinkedIn
While LinkedIn can be an excellent source for identifying potential entry or mid-level managers, many senior executives do not have a LinkedIn page and if they do, it is often incomplete. For example, only one member of Deutsche Post DHL Group’s six members of the board has any presence on LinkedIn. And this lack of a senior executive presence on LinkedIn is not unique to Europe or the logistics industry. A quick review shows that of the 14 members of Yahoo’s senior executive team, only two have LinkedIn profiles that include recommendations, and very few of those profiles even include descriptions of past positions.
Senior executives often do not have the time required to create the type of robust LinkedIn presence that gives search consultants the information they need to identify potential candidates. Or, even if they do have the time, those senior executives may not want their employers to think they are actively job seeking. So, they minimize their presence on LinkedIn.
which brings us to the next point.
2. LinkedIn does not differentiate between active and passive candidates
As minimal or incomplete as they may be, Yahoo’s executive team has LinkedIn profiles. Does that mean they are all in the job market? No. And even with tools like LinkedIn Recruiter, there is no definitive way to tell via a candidate’s profile whether or not he or she could be converted from a passive job seeker into an active job seeker. Stated differently, candidates might not even think they are in the market for a new position until they are told by a recruiter that they may be exactly the person their potential new employer is looking for.
Converting passive job seekers into active job seekers requires more than emails. It requires sound conversations. The candidate needs to be able to speak freely about his or her present role, motivation to move, personal values, salary package and environment, as well as be able to ask candid questions about the new opportunity. That type of exchange occurs in phone conversations, which are both more informative and carry less risk than electronic communication.
which brings me to the last point.
3. LinkedIn can’t ask the right questions – or gather valuable competitive intelligence on your company.
One of the most valuable components of the executive search process is the time your consultant spends on the phone with potential candidates. This phase of the search requires digging deeper and learning far more about the candidate than what can be learned from a LinkedIn profile. A candidate that may appear to be a perfect fit might lack the confidence needed to succeed in a new role. Or, conversely, the candidate may have such an abundance of confidence that he or she risks alienating their colleagues.
You’ll never gain this type of insight from a LinkedIn profile, and candidates tend to be far more candid with search consultants than they are with the hiring company.
Lastly, an often overlooked benefit of the recruiting process is the competitive intelligence an executive search consultant gathers on your company, particularly on your brand perception. Are candidates eager to join your company because of its reputation? Or, are they staying away because of that reputation? Does your firm even have a reputation, or are you largely unknown? Gathering competitive intelligence through conversations with candidates currently working for your competitors is priceless.
That sort of insight makes an executive search consultant more than just a recruiter. It makes him or her a trusted business advisor.
and that’s something LinkedIn definitely can’t replace.