How to Build a Strong Executive Search Firm Brand Using Assessments

How to Build a Strong Executive Search Firm Brand Using Assessments

This post originally appeared on AESC Insights blog

The executive search industry generated $11.7 billion in revenue globally in 2014. In the US market alone there are more than 6,000 companies vying for a piece of that pie. How many direct competitors do you have in your market? What are you doing to make your firms stand out in that crowd? Assessments may be the answer.

Before any sort of marketing program will work, you need to have a recognizable reputation, or brand, in the market. Whether you’re focused on increasing referrals, creating a content marketing plan, advertising, investing in lead generation, you need to have your compelling point of differentiation nailed down.

So, what’s yours?

For too many executive search firms, and professional service firms in general, it’s bland and not specific enough. It’s “we do what that guy down the street does, but our logo is blue and we’re better.” That won’t do it. There are just too many choices out there.

What can you do to stand out?

I’d like to show you how one firm that we work with is using assessments to build a competitive advantage and establish themselves as talent management and leadership development experts in their market. As a result, they’ve been able to grow their business for search and other non-search activities like leadership development and strategic advising.

They’ve done it by using assessments in four key ways, to:

  1. Create a more rigorous recruitment process
  2. Add value and services beyond recruitment
  3. Tap into a new network of potential customers
  4. Create a strategic Corporate Social Responsibility program

I could spend a lot of time explaining what our assessments do and how we’re different, but that’s not the point here. If you want a quick education on behavioral assessments and how you can use them, watch this video. You can also contact me directly and I’d be happy to talk to you about it. For this article, I want to focus on how one company is using them to make their business stand out. So, let’s look at that in more detail.

Create a more rigorous recruitment process

Job Profiling & Strategy

Have you ever gotten four to six weeks into a search just to hear the client say, “there’s something not working here. You’re sending us the wrong types of candidates”?

This company uses our job profiling tool, The McQuaig Job Survey, to create a behavioral profile of the ideal candidate and they use the process to get the hiring team on the same page about what they’re looking for BEFORE the search begins.

By completing the Job Survey, you get a detailed profile of the ideal candidate based on your client’s input on what they feel is needed. If you have multiple members of the hiring team completing a Job Survey, and they come up with different profile types, you can dig into their results with them to get to a definitive profile to work with.

That’s what our client does. They facilitate a group discussion to get the hiring team to agree on what’s really important. In doing so, they cement their role as a trusted advisor and avoid any surprises down the road. They tell us that their clients really appreciate this step and the expertise they bring to the table.


The report form the Job Survey also provides screening tips to speed up that process. They improve candidate screening by using the report’s suggestions of what to look for when reviewing candidates’ resumes.

Candidates that are chosen for an interview will all complete a candidate survey. This allows our system to provide a report that contains a “Level of Fit” measure and customized behavioral interview questions for each candidate.

Our client uses this data to provide visual support in the form of a graph analysis to support recommendations on candidates. Here are a couple of direct quotes from them on the subject:

We are well versed but anytime you add a graph and some numbers it becomes more valid”

“The graphs are really powerful – they give you a high level view of what you are looking at”

“I like it when it reveals something that the client didn’t get in the first meeting – something that they may not have gotten until 6 months from now”

Client Interviewing & Final Selection

You can also support the interview process with your client’s hiring team. The candidate reports provide customized behavioral interview questions created specifically to confirm if the candidate has the behavioral traits to succeed in the role. Our client uses these interview guides to provide an added level of support and certainty and value to their clients.

They say they have one client whose CEO “loved comparing her profile to the finalists’ profiles to see how they would work together and where they might have challenges.”

Add value and services beyond recruitment

More and more search firms are seeking to expand their offering beyond traditional search. We’re aware of one major firm that reports suggest gets almost 40 percent of the revenue from non-search activities. You can leverage assessments to equip you to expand your offerings and create new revenue streams.

Our client uses assessments to offer:

  • leadership development;
  • succession management;
  • team effectiveness sessions; and
  • leadership strategy sessions.

With one client that has a sales team of 700 they’ve had the sales management group complete our assessment and are running a management team effectiveness session in the spring. They’ll use employee reports along with our Team Approach Report and Team Comparison Graphs to help that group understand how they can work together more effectively.

They’ve also conducted a top performer study by having their client’s top 50 sales reps complete an assessment and worked with the client to identify the common traits and build a profile of a successful sales rep. They’re now running a strategy session with the client to analyze this profile and discuss what’s needed in the future. This process is really positioning them as strategic partner and trusted advisor. This opens up a whole new channel of business for them they never had before.

Tap into a network of potential customers

How many candidates do you interview in a year? If you’re doing senior-level searches, most of those candidates will eventually land in senior roles somewhere. That means they’re all potential clients. What are you doing to build relationships?

Our client provides every candidate that completes an assessment with a 30-minute debrief and a copy of their report. This is creating real value for the candidate, who is looking to grow and position themselves in the best light, and creates a truly positive and memorable experience. It differentiates them from all the other search firms these candidates interact with. Guess who these candidates will think of when they need help in the future? 

Create a strategic Corporate Social Responsibility program

Research shows that 84 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a product or service from a company that they feel is socially responsible. Research for business purchasers is scarce, but what there is suggests that links also exists for businesses purchases. We also know that employees look favorably on companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility and it can help with attracting A-level talent.

Our client realizes this and has found a way to use assessments to create a strong CSR program. They support a scholarship program focused on supporting students that show leadership potential. In addition to financial contributions, the company also works with us to provide assessments and debriefs to graduating students who were part of the program.

The sessions form part of a development program to help these graduates become strong leaders. This aligns perfectly with the company’s positioning as a talent management and leadership development expert. Taking a longer-term look, they’ve also made a strong impression with a group of future leaders who could eventually become clients.

What can you do?

You can use assessments to make your business stand out, too; to open up new revenue streams and create additional value for your clients. This vastly increases the likelihood of being referred because there is so much more to be referred for.

McQuaig assessments are easy to implement and surprisingly inexpensive. If you want to learn more about how we can help you differentiate your business, check out this page or give us a call.

What makes your organization stand out?


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