kaboomNothing blows up an executive search process like a surprise, whether it’s a surprise from the candidate or the client. Venture-backed startup or mid-sized public company, surprises detonate with equally devastating results.

In the search process, a delicate chemistry begins binding a finalist candidate to a company, and vice versa. It doesn’t take much to turn that chemistry volatile. And we’ve seen it all.

Candidate examples–

  • “My spouse has decided we can’t relocate…”
  • “I’ve thought about the travel and it’s too much…”
  • “I’ve just had my lawyer look at my non-compete, and there’s this one problem…”
  • “I liked the whole team except for that last guy, I can’t work with him.”

Client examples–

  • “You should know, the cap table has so much preference that the valuation needs to increase 100X for management to make money.”
  • “The board has decided to let the Founder stay on in an operational role…”
  • “We’ve decided that we don’t want to pay that much, so please find less expensive candidates.”
  • “We altered the job spec last week and forgot to tell you…”

A dozen times in a given search, we will use the phrase, “Our job is to make sure everyone gets to the finish line knowing everything.” We usually say that by way of explaining to a client or candidate why we’re recommending a difficult conversation or decision. Why? Because surprises, at the least, generate complicating “fear” while, at the worst, they can stop a deal dead in its tracks.

Executive search is a quintessentially human experience for all involved, no matter the size of the executive or the company. As such, time and again, we’re reminded that fear is a core part of human nature. And while the fear instinct is part of our evolutionary biology and a key reason our species has made it this far, fear is also an utterly avoidable way to blow up a search.

Fear is utterly avoidable because the questions are known. The solution is anticipation.

As a client, you should anticipate that the big questions need clear answers. As a candidate, you should likewise anticipate the need to be clear on the big questions. Your search partner should run a process that seeks to make clarity unavoidable and to be everyone’s ally against surprises.

This will all sound familiar to our firm’s clients and the candidates who’ve come through our process, many of whom will recall conversations that were more pointed than they’d prefer. But we’re being paid for success and success means no surprises.

So, whether you’re a client or a candidate, make sure you’re ready for the big questions. They’re for your benefit. The fact that executive search is a very human experience and vulnerable to surprises is a given. What’s not a given is the result of an executive search.