Consultants need a sense of the non-verbal

Sometimes unexpected paths can lead to the right professional decisions. Micheál Coughlan, Managing Partner at InterSearch Ireland and member of the board of InterSearch Worldwide, knows this well. Never planning a career as a recruiter himself, he caught the attention of InterSearch while he was a candidate for one of its clients. „It did not work out with the position I was applying for, but the consultant must have recognized my potential as an executive search consultant,“ says Coughlan. In addition to convincing communication skills, he believes that this includes above all a keen sense of nonverbal signs and gestures. To assess whether a candidate is a good „fit,“ the hard facts are simply not enough. „This is one of the problems young applicants in our industry are facing. While they often have excellent technical skills, they sometimes lack communication and people skills. We have become very accustomed to video interviews but unfortunately, a lot can get lost in these digital processes,“ Coughlan explains. In his experience, the most important decisions for or against candidates are often made during the coffee break or the five minutes before the appointment. Whether the chemistry is right can often only be determined in a personal meeting.


It is all about asking the right questions

According to Coughlan, listening and formulating the right questions are among the most underrated skills for personnel consultants. Certain questions are rightly off limits, but if you want to find out about a candidate’s family situation to gauge whether the job is a good fit, you need to be sensitive. Coughlan explains: „If a position requires the candidate to relocate, for example, I can ask questions along the lines of, ‚Who else would be affected by your move?‘ This way I can find out if a family or, say, school-aged children need to be considered.“ According to Coughlan, the really substantive questions start coming up once you have identified the top two candidates. Therefore, it is most expedient to phrase them in a way such as to identify potential obstacles that might prevent candidates from taking a job. Making them feel like they are under scrutiny, on the other hand, is not the right way to go. „Ideally, you can work together to remove obstacles,“ says Coughlan.


Informal conversations are part of the process in Ireland

To gauge whether an applicant is a good fit for the team, more informal settings are often chosen as part of the hiring process in Ireland. „Sometimes, people meet again for a dinner and bring their respective partners. On these occasions, people talk about more than just work and get to know each other in a completely different way. A person is more than just his or her career – you have to understand them holistically,“ says Coughlan. Even in more formal interviews, consultants usually start with a more casual chat about informal topics to make the applicants feel comfortable. Because Ireland is very small, people tend to share a lot in common, which is a good basis for small talk. But this is not the norm everywhere, Coughlan recalls: „I was abroad for a meeting at the Irish Embassy with an international colleague. She was completely shocked at the informal conversation that took place in the first 15 minutes. All the Irish colleagues, on the other hand, found the conversation pleasant and nothing out of the ordinary.“


Better employee retention makes candidates less likely to change jobs

Recruiters in Ireland have witnessed a number of changes in recent years – many of them driven by the strong candidate market. For one, the number of counteroffers that candidates have been receiving, has increased. „Right now, companies are trying to retain talent at all costs and match or beat salary offers,“ Coughlan says. Candidates are also less open to interviews overall because many companies have started to take employee retention very seriously. Large multinationals – U.S. companies in particular – are far ahead in this regard. They have greater resources available to identify talent and promote it.


Even multinationals require the help of executive search

Interestingly, it is large multinational corporations that have been increasingly using InterSearch’s services for the past year or so. „These companies actually run their own recruiting programs. But they are simply overwhelmed with the number of vacancies they need to fill at the same time. So, they are tasking outside firms with the most critical searches – especially when they want to poach talent from competitors,“ Coughlan explains. To be sure, the impact of inflation and the Ukraine war on certain industries will be a significant drag on growth and some industries are already feeling it. Coughlan says: „This will definitely affect the staffing situation. Currently, however, demand in Ireland is still greater than supply.“


Executive search consultants contribute to the lives of candidates

„The real reward for consultants is the validation of having made a small contribution to a person’s life and career,“ Coughlan says. He experienced this himself a few years ago when searching for an operations manager for an Irish manufacturer of agricultural machinery. They found a suitable candidate who was in the Middle East at the time and later found that he was very familiar with the client. He had used and repaired this very machinery as a child on his father’s farm. „This candidate was perfect for the role. Not only was he qualified, but he had the necessary passion for the product. He then moved the whole family back to Ireland – it really was the perfect fit.“


Ireland in numbers

GDP: USD 498.9 billion
Economic growth: 13.5% compared to the previous year
Per capita annual income: approx. 99,013 USDMicheál 2
Inflation rate: + 2.4 % compared to the previous year
Unemployment rate: 6.3%
Employees in the service sector: approx. 77 %.
Source: Statista 2021


Micheál Coughlan

Micheál Coughlan has been an indispensable part of the international InterSearch network since joining InterSearch Ireland as a junior consultant in 1996. He joined the Board in 2017 and was most recently confirmed in 2020. He is primarily active in the Life Sciences and Manufacturing sectors.