Dec 1 2009
Exclusive interviews with top search professionals in key sectors - to bring you the latest career updates from the front lines.
BlueSteps talks to Jo Bennett, a Partner at retained search firm Battalia Winston, to gain her insight into current developments within the search industry.
BlueSteps: Unemployment rates are increasing and everyone is feeling anxious. What can you tell me about what’s happening in the professional services sector today?
Jo: The industries I personally serve are financial and professional services. We’re usually recruited to bring in senior level consultants. One specialty of the firm is assembling diverse slates of candidates. We are a woman-run firm and we have a strong commitment to diversity.
It is indeed a very anxiety-provoking time. Very atypically for this time of year, many of our clients don’t know their hiring plans for 2009, which makes planning difficult all around.
BlueSteps: Of course in any market there are pockets of activity. What are those spots in your industry right now in terms of hiring?
Jo: Restructuring is one area of consulting that is growing at the moment; restructuring firms are extremely busy due to so many companies going bankrupt or in financial trouble. Also, consulting to the public sector is safe because budgets have been set for some time, and technical consulting is healthy.
Risk management - from market risk (looking at the capital markets) to credit risk (assessing a company’s credit worthiness) to enterprise risk (assessing whether the firm is safe to operate in), are healthy. People and organizations are treading with great caution to preserve what they have; they are considering all the risk angles before they move ahead.
BlueSteps: Looking into your crystal ball (which you mentioned is cracked, at the moment!) what do you think the future holds for consultants?
Jo: The reason companies hire consultants is they need outside expertise and/or think they can get it done better and cheaper than in-house. Anytime you can convince clients you can do something better and cheaper, there is a market. If it’s just a frill, it’s going to be a hard sell.
Looking more holistically, the question is: what’s the strategy going to be? Some experts are saying we should manufacture more products in the US so we’re not so dependent on the Chinese and others, and we can shorten the supply chain. This could be an area that would need more consultants, for example supply chain management and strategy experts. Of course it could be harder with a strong dollar.
BlueSteps: Are you more or less receptive to candidates who are unemployed? And are clients more willing to look at candidates who have been laid off?
Jo: We are in such an unusual market right now. If a client situation is considered risky, we strongly recommend that the client hire someone who’s currently unemployed. If it’s a risky industry or the company’s in turnaround, or it’s a lateral move, it’s a tough sell. People want to move for a better opportunity, not a riskier one! You’ve got to make sure you convince the client to do the right thing.
BlueSteps: In this environment, are searches taking longer?
Jo: With a large pool of unemployed people, clients get extremely picky; they want everything they put in the spec to be present in the candidate. And that can prolong the search.
BlueSteps: As markets shrink, do you think employers will be more willing to look at “out of the box” candidates from other industries, who have stellar track records?
Jo: That’s the search firm taking a risk. In bad times, nobody takes a risk. It takes a special client to get us to present out of the box candidates. Sometimes it’s a complicated case to make. But making the safe choice doesn’t necessarily lead you to the top of your industry, either, so there are times when we do push for a non-traditional candidate. But you see this more in times of expansion, but not retrenchment. You’ll try to make the safe, low risk choice in times of uncertainty.
About Ms Bennett
Jo Bennett joined Battalia Winston in 1990. She previously spent two years as Managing Principal of another executive search firm. Jo’s executive search expertise is in conducting senior level executive search assignments for a broad cross-section of areas in professional services, financial services and not-for-profit organizations. Her clients have included consulting firms, banks, and associations. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Jo is a graduate of Duke University. She is active in community organizations in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn and also has served as Chairperson of the New York Chapter of The American Red Cross. To read more about Jo and Battalia Winston, visit www.battaliawinston.com.
Interview conducted for BlueSteps by Allison Cheston, December 2008. Allison is a marketer, career advisor, and expert in executive search marketing. For more information go to http://www.allisoncheston.com.
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