Executive search in Germany is more process-driven
Heirman is not only a Client Partner focusing on Consumer Goods & Retail at Schelstraete Delacourt Assiocates in Belgium, but also Head of Consumer & Retail Europe in the International InterSearch Network. As a result, he is familiar with both the Belgian and the European executive search markets. Heirman does not see any serious differences between the executive search business in Belgium and Germany or other Northern European countries. „If I had to pinpoint the main difference to the German approach, it would be that we are less process-driven in Belgium. I see our approach as more pragmatic and flexible, tailor-made to the needs and cultural particularities of our customer.“ In Belgium, it is also customary to ask candidates about their salary expectations and not to start the process with a fixed salary offer from your client.
What makes the InterSearch network so collaborative?
Many members of InterSearch are independent executive search consultants who own their own firms. This ensures consistency and long-term relationships between consultants in different countries. These connections are fortified during annual international conferences and joint research projects and groups. The advantage is obvious: in global searches, the large international network immediately offers many potential cooperation partners in the target countries who are familiar with the local business culture, speak the local language and know the market like the back of their hand. While clients appreciate the personal support of a national contact person, they also rely on them to have the resources to find the best candidates in any country in the world. InterSearch members can select a partner company from their global network that perfectly fits their specific international search. While one of the partners is familiar with the client, the other contributes with experience in the target market. The resulting synergy is what enables InterSearch to offer customized solutions for every conceivable personnel search. After all, it is not just about the candidate’s knowledge and skills, but also whether it is a „good fit“ culturally.
The perfect fit for complex global searches
For Heirman, a perfect example of this cooperation is the search for a Global Research and Development Director for which they were hired by a confectionery manufacturer. The target market was global and included a target company in Korea. For this reason, candidates were sought in both Europe and Asia. InterSearch Belgium was able to draw on the expertise of InterSearch Korea. „Korea is a country where you really need to have a local partner who is close to the market and speaks the local language,“ explains Heirman. So while InterSearch Belgium was searching the European market, the Korean partner was active in their market. „These global searches can be very complex,“ Heirman says. Accessing the Japanese market for example, has proved particularly challenging.“ Heirman adds, „When you have a recruiting conversation in English in Japan, you can immediately sense a certain distance. On top of that, Japanese employees are extremely loyal to their employer and very rarely change jobs. So you do not only need the language skills, but above all the cultural competence to delicately maneuver this sensitive issue.“
The future of executive search is shaped by candidate-driven markets and digitization
How will executive search in Belgium develop in the future? Heirman is currently observing a candidate-driven market: companies are ramping up their operations again after the pandemic and are looking for qualified executives. So there are enough assignments, but the candidates are being fought over – an observation that Heirman’s German colleagues are also currently making. „So the challenge is not so much to get business in, but to convince a candidate, who may be in several recruiting processes at the same time.“ Increasing flexibility in work location increases the candidate pool for many companies willing to take that step, he says. Heirman also sees great potential for digitization in the first steps of the recruiting process: „Especially in international searches, the evaluation and prioritization of candidates in the first step can be done completely digitally. But there will always be the face-to-face aspect, where stakeholders and candidates meet in person.“ According to Heirman the interpersonal component will always remain indispensable in executive search.
Jo Heirman has been with Schelstraete Delacourt Assiocates, Belgium’s largest independent executive search company for 10 years. As Client Partner and Head of Consumer & Retail Europe in the international InterSearch network, he is mainly active in the field of Consumer Goods & Retail. Heirman holds a PhD in Greek literature.
Belgium in numbers:
GDP: 513.1 billion USD
Economic growth: -6.4 % compared to previous year
Per capita annual income: 44,529 USD
Inflation rate: 0.4 % compared to previous year
Unemployment rate: 5.6 %
Employment rate: 64.7
Service sector employees: 78.42 %
Source: Statista 2020 / Eurostat 2020