I must say - as someone who helps run a recruiting firm, there are always a few types of searches that surprise me. It's a field where you're always learning.
We've done some of these searches at Kinetix, in the field of education and other industries. Who would pay a recruiting firm a full fee to run a search where they already know who all the viable candidates are?
As it turns out, people looking for a new hire where all the candidates are incredibly paranoid of being outed publicly that they're in the market to change jobs.
Case in point - the education industry. Get involved in any leadership/CEO/Superintendent search and you'll soon learn that it's hard to have conversations with incumbents in other jobs who might be good candidates for you - because they are scared to death of the organization/school/community they currently work for finding out that they have interest in that job.
Is this America? Yeah, it is. That means people can judge you for nothing as well as you having the right to change jobs if you're so inclined.
The risk for this type of candidate is just too great to be seen as interested in your job. For organizations with open leadership spots, the search firm becomes a layer of plausible deniability. The hard part for the search firm in the education industry is that the interview process is public record. You want to provide a slate of 5 candidates to give great options, but look at your next school leadership search and one of two things will be present - there's either 2-3 finalists or you have a full slate of 5 candidates, but three of those five aren't currently employed. Once these candidates are forced to go public and it hits the paper, it's hard for them with the current organizations.
A similar type of search happens in the sports world for head coaches, general managers, etc. Here's notes from a recent GM search for professional basketball's Orlando Magic:
The Orlando Magic have named John Hammond as general manager. The organization tapped Korn Ferry to help replace past GM Rob Hennigan, saying that after missing the postseason for five consecutive seasons it was time for a new approach. Jed Hughes, a Korn Ferry vice chairman and global sports sector leader, led the assignment.
Mr. Hammond, GM of the Milwaukee Bucks for the past nine years, won the NBA’s Executive of the Year award for the 2009-10 season. He is well familiar with Jeff Weltman, the recently appointed Orlando Magic president of basketball operations, whom he worked with in Milwaukee. Mr. Hammond was the architect of the Milwaukee team, where he landed top draft picks Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton and Malcom Brogdon, hired head coach Jason Kidd and reached the NBA playoffs two of the past three seasons.
Korn Ferry’s sports practice has conducted a number of prominent searches, including for the commissioner for the National Football League as well as the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The recruiter has also been active filling head coaching and general manger roles for both professional and collegiate sports teams. The search firm recently placed former Magic executive Patrick Ewing as the new head basketball coach of Georgetown University. Mr. Ewing was assistant head coach of the Magic from 2007 to 2012.
In the sports world, the need for the search firm happens for different reasons. Instead of candidates being scared of losing favor with their current organizations, sports teams/athletic programs deploy search agencies to provide a layer of PR to the process. In the sports world, teams/athletic programs are more concerned about being declined by candidates multiple times - which leads to the perception that their programs are less than desirable by their fan bases, which theoretically leads to lower ticket sales, booster donations, etc.
I've done the high level search where every candidate is known. The first time I did it, I went in thinking it was going to be easy.
I was wrong - it turns out that the organizations in question had some unique pain that required search.
Hit me up at Kinetix if you've got a search you need help with - whether the all the candidates are known - but especially if they aren't...