“There’s definitely an element of detective work”: our Research Consultant Andrew Thomson shares his top tips for executive search success

Executive search experts are in demand as the green recovery picks up pace globally. Our offshore wind Research Consultant Andrew Thomson tells his story on building a career in renewable energy – and shares his expertise on finding candidates with the right technical and cultural skills for renewables projects.
Taylor Hopkinson's offshore wind Research Consultant Andrew Thomson
Our offshore wind Research Consultant Andrew Thomson finds “one-in-a-million” candidates for our clients through careful search and detective work.

“My fascination with executive search began in a board meeting when I was an intern.

One senior executive turned to me and asked: “what can we do to recruit more young people?” It struck me that they thought in such general terms. You would never ask “how can we recruit more people between the ages of 30 and 50” – they are all different in terms of background, aspirations and qualifications. It was really surprising to me that they didn’t recognise that.

The episode encouraged me to consider leadership and having an impact at the highest levels of business. Who places the Chief Execs? Who’s putting the senior teams in place to lead these organisations? It got me thinking about how I could make that process better, which led me to an executive search career. I had studied geography at Oxford, where we also studied renewable energy, and I knew it was the industry of the future. All of which eventually brought me to Taylor Hopkinson.

Here, my main day-to-day role is finding the people with the experience and skills to meet a really exacting brief from our clients – the one-in-a-million candidates. Increasingly, offshore wind developers are seeking people who’ve been there, done it. The challenge is that there’s a small pool of those people, and more and more vacancies are opening up for them. So you have to find every single person that can do the job, and that involves looking beyond tools like LinkedIn. It’s all about finding new, innovative ways of finding people – it’s an investigation. There’s definitely an element of detective work involved in what I do.

The most satisfying part of the job for me is finding the unconventional solution to the problem. There’s a lot of people who can look at data and work out their conclusion. Not as many people can look at data and see what they’re missing. It’s about finding the things that have been missed or left out, uncovering them, and using them to your advantage. It’s working backwards from the solution to identify the parts that make it up.

Sometimes you’ll have a lightbulb moment, but you have to put in the hard work to get there. Our Business Intelligence offering came from a lightbulb moment – it came from client requests for access to our wind and solar data.

Other companies might do salary benchmarking, but they benchmark across industries. They wouldn’t benchmark, for instance, a Marketing Director in offshore wind or solar. But we do, because we have that data, and we can provide it as a tool of added value for our clients. So another part of my role is thinking beyond recruitment and working out what our clients need.

It was a lightbulb moment that helped us realise that, but we wouldn’t have been able to make that realisation without the hard work we’d put in over years of interviewing people, talking to people, gathering data and recording it. So in essence, it all comes back to that: putting in the work. Whatever your speciality, there’s really no getting away from it.”

Here are three insights I’ve gathered over the years that we use to help our clients at Taylor Hopkinson that can help shape your journey towards executive search success.

Be a specialist in your own market.

There’s a theory that to be an expert at something, you need to accumulate 10,000 hours doing it. How did Bill Gates get so good at coding? Well, at a time when no other schools had computers, he had the good fortune to go to a school that had one. He got his 10,000 hours of coding in before he was 18, and went on to develop Microsoft into one of the world’s biggest companies.

To succeed in executive search, it helps to find a niche and make it your own: get your 10,000 hours. At Taylor Hopkinson, our experts build their 10,000 hours through training, provision, and hands-on experience in particular industries such as onshore and offshore wind, solar and energy storage. We’re not just niche in one renewable technology, we’re niche in several – and that makes us unique.

Never expect a simple answer to a complicated question.

The story about Isaac Newton and the apple falling on his head – sorry, but it’s not true. Newton spent years working, and the apple story is a myth because people like simple answers because they’re easy to understand. People want to believe that a moment of genius – or at least a lightbulb moment – can emerge instantly.

But it’s not about that. It’s about perseverance and putting in the effort in the face of a difficult problem. When you’re searching for a candidate at the highest levels, don’t just assume that there are things you don’t know or can’t find out. You need to analyse the data and figure out how everything fits together. If you sit back and wait for the apple to fall on your head, you’re going to be disappointed when it doesn’t.

It’s ok to be wrong. 

In executive search, or any type of recruitment, you’re guaranteed to make mistakes when you’re starting out. You’re figuring out what works to find candidates. You’re looking to see what process, structure, and elements work. So you will make a mistake – and that’s fine, as long as you learn from it and integrate it into your process. As an internal learning and development tool, it’s all part of the process. Just build the less successful approaches into what you’re doing, and before long you should start to see the results.

Visit our Business Intelligence hub to find out how relevant, insightful data can help you make informed decisions.

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