Recruitment consultants are routinely engaged to fill senior posts in the public sector. They are expensive but so is appointing the wrong person.

The best pride themselves on being able to put together a strong short list. When it comes to the unpredictable nature of interview panels it is important that everyone who appears before the panel is appointable. Top recruitment consultants know who is out there looking even if their current employers don’t.

‘Have an interview panel that is balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity, which might involve people from outside the organisation’

A successful head hunter’s reputation is based on being able to make a good match between candidate and organisation. They will identify the right person for the post but the right person is not necessarily the best person, which is why any organisation genuinely committed to equal opportunities should not use them.

A highly successful recruitment consultant recently put their impressive track record down to their ability to identify the “real client”, ie: the one who would really be making the decision. In some organisations this is the chief executive, in others it is the leader of the council or the chair of the board.

He went on to say, “I don’t aim to recruit the best candidate but the one the client will like the best. My reputation and that of the firm is based on being able to come up with someone I know the client will like.”

Self-perpetuating cycle

The right person is the one that will fit in; the one the client feels most comfortable with; someone the client could work with, who shares the client’s values, comes from a similar background; shares their sense of humour, interests, dresses like them and talks like them. It’s not hard to see how this would work against recruiting a diverse senior management team despite the rhetoric that might surround the recruitment process.

Of course the short list might contain a female candidate or a black candidate to show that the organisation was trying to address the existing imbalance, but no one is really surprised when these outsiders are beaten by the favourite.

So how do we reduce the risk of this self-perpetuating situation and get the best person for the post? Don’t use head hunters. Do use HR and have an interview panel that is balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity, which might necessitate involving people from outside the organisation on the panel. This would certainly lead to a more explicit understanding of what the panel is looking for in ideal candidate.

When it comes to recommending the best person or the right person for the post, head hunters will always go for the right person, which is why the public sector shouldn’t use them.