How to Grow a Wildly Successful Executive Search Practice, with Somer Hackley, Ep #139

To build a thriving executive search practice, you need to be good at winning new business. However, my special guest Somer Hackley realized early in her recruiting career that traditional approaches to business development didn’t work for her.

Instead, Somer developed her own way of landing retained searches. Her approach has proven to be highly effective, enabling her to become a top producer at two of the world’s biggest retained executive search firms. 

Her strategy involves, as Somer puts it, “doing BD by not doing BD.” I was intrigued by the apparent contradiction. Somer explains that while she doesn’t perform pure business development activities, “everything I do is BD.” In this interview, Somer reveals her top three ways of winning work.

Somer has been in recruiting for 20 years, the last 14 in executive search. In 2020 she launched her own firm called Distinguished Search. Having worked for some of the biggest executive search firms in the world, she wanted to work with fewer clients and offer more personalized service.Somer is the author of the new book, Search in Plain Sight – Demystifying Executive Search which was published in June.

Episode Outline and Highlights

  • [1:22] Becoming a published author and a mother in the same month! 
  • [4:03] How Somer got started in recruiting 20 years ago – we discuss the constant pressure to achieve targets.
  • [8:26] The challenge of launching her own firm in 2020 during a pandemic
  • [14:00] Business development by not doing business development. 
  • [19:19] Somer’s approach to recruiting / how she pitches roles.
  • [24:34] Somer’s video series: Two Distinguished Minutes. 
  • [33:30] How to establish trust with people quickly.
  • [41:30] How Somer approaches the scenario of candidates getting multiple offers.
  • [45:45] How to prep your clients prior to the interview.
  • [51:10] Discussion on Somer’s new book, Search in Plain Sight: Demystifying Executive Search

BD by Not Doing BD

“I do BD, you can either say a hundred percent all the time or zero percent all the time, depending on how you are looking at it.” For Somer, business development traditionally was transactional – connecting to the higher-ups of potential clients and setting appointments. This formal approach did not work for Somer as she describes her communication style to be more casual. 

When Somer went on her own, her mindset was “I work with people” – she doesn’t think of them in terms of clients vs candidates. She never contacts executives with the sole intent of getting business.  “I just reach out to people and I think every time I am talking to a person, this could be a client in 3 months, it could be a client in 5 years. So, how do I position this conversation so that when that role opens, they think of me for that?”

Somer shared her approach to segmenting her clients into three buckets:

  • “Candidates that I place, and now they’re hiring.”
  • “Candidates that I didn’t place, and now they’re hiring.”
  • “HR execs, internal recruiters that have moved companies and have brought me along in the relationship.”

For Somer, business development is really simple. She focuses on the human connection and ensuring her processes work for her candidates. She finds that when her candidates have a hiring need, she’s the first recruiter they turn to – even if she didn’t place them.

Video Content Idea: Two Distinguished Minutes

Creating video content and posting consistently to different platforms such as LinkedIn is the easiest type of content marketing you can do. It does not cost anything – all it takes is for you to start and eventually more ideas will come for your content. This is exactly what Somer has been doing consistently with her videos – Two Distinguished Minutes. 

The idea came up when she watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about starting with WHY. She approached leaders in her network with a compelling idea.  Will you record a video interview with me and answer the question, “Why do you do what you do?” It’s a topic that senior leaders were enthusiastic about, and because her videos are only two-minutes long, even the busiest executives could make time for it.

I’ve studied and practiced content marketing for 20 years – before it was even called content marketing.  So I enjoyed discussing how Somer comes up with her content ideas.  I hope it will inspire you to start creating your own original content and positioning yourself as an authority in your market niche. 

Search in Plain Sight: Demystifying Executive Search

Somer is the author of the new book, Search in Plain Sight – Demystifying Executive Search which was published in June. In this book, Somer shares a candid view of the world of executive search. I have read this book and it is fantastic! 

I am also honored to be interviewed by Somer and be in the few pages of the book (Chapters 6 and 14). I really recommend reading this book – it was really extensively researched with so many case studies and indeed a must-read for executive recruiters.

Our Sponsors

This podcast is proudly sponsored by i-intro and Recruitment Entrepreneur.

i-intro® is an end-to-end retained recruitment platform. Their technology and methodology allow recruiters to differentiate themselves from the competition, win more retained business, bigger fees and increase their billings. Their software combined with world-class training enables you to transition from transactional, contingency recruiter to consultative, retained recruiter. Instead of being perceived as a “me too” vendor, you’ll be positioned as a “me only” solutions provider. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Book your free, no-obligation consultation here: www.recruitmentcoach.com/retained

Recruitment Entrepreneur is the world’s leading Private Equity firm specializing in the international recruitment industry. If you’ve dreamed of starting, scaling and selling your recruitment business, this is your chance. James Caan and his team at Recruitment Entrepreneur are actively seeking ambitious recruiters who they can invest in. They provide everything you need to grow a successful recruitment business including: funding, financial expertise, coaching and mentoring, operational strategy, backoffice support, marketing and talent attraction solutions. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Start a conversation here: https://www.recruitmentcoach.com/vc

Somer Hackley Bio and Contact Info 

Somer Hackley received her degree in economics from Tufts University in 2002. She has been in recruiting for twenty years, including the last thirteen years in executive search. She spent six years at the seventh-largest global retained search firm, and later ran the North America Digital, Technology, and Commerce Practice at a leading boutique. In 2020 she started her own brand, Distinguished Search, inspired to launch a firm aligned with her core values: working with fewer clients and offering more personalized services. She has placed executives in companies from Fortune 100 to startups, with a focus on technology and digital positions. The need for transparency in executive search led to her debut book, Search in Plain Sight.

People and Resources Mentioned

  • Search in Plain Sight: Demystifying Executive Search on Amazon
  • Two Distinguished Minutes on YouTube

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