The Labor Department released the first jobs report of 2024 last week, showing a lift of 353,000 jobs to keep the unemployment rate stable at 3.7%. Of note, 74,000 jobs were added in the business and professional segments, which is a hefty jump from the average monthly increase of 14,000 jobs in 2023.
Presumably, some of these positions belong to executives and business leaders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 311,600 openings for top executives projected each year, on average, over the decade as people move to different fields or leave the workforce entirely. This category is expected to grow 3% from 2022 to 2032, which the Labor Department indicates is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Recruiting in AI crosshairs
Recruiting for executives is notoriously tricky. Executive search in the U.S. is a big industry, with a market valued at $8.7 billion in 2023, according to research firm IBISWorld. As a high-stakes part of the hiring process and succession planning, the field sits in the crosshairs of artificial intelligence.
At Gartner’s ReimagineHR Conference in the fall of 2023, Emi Chiba, a principal analyst in Gartner’s human resources practice, spoke about the role of AI in the recruiting process.
While gen AI has gained attention for developing job descriptions, candidate communications and interview questions, Chiba says that regular AI continues to deliver in more areas, including executive search.
There are a variety of new AI systems coming to the world of leadership assessment and recruiting. According to industry analyst Josh Bersin, other major players include Heidrick’s new Leadership Navigator (powered by Eightfold), as well as new soft skills and leadership inferences in SeekOut. Korn Ferry is also investigating these types of technologies. Use cases for executive search include improved candidate matching, data-driven insights and decision-making tools.
One interesting new platform, SucceedSmart, is an AI-driven marketplace that connects employers to executive job seekers. Bersin called it a “disruptive idea that could change executive search forever.” Considering that about half of outside-hire executives end up failing at their new role, according to leadership consulting firm DDI, this is one area where SucceedSmart aims to make improvements through more effective matching.
Is executive search broken?
SucceedSmart founder and CEO Sanjay Sathé says he realized there were flaws in the executive search environment when he was searching for a new role and was discouraged by a recruiter to take a shot at a job due to his age.
If Sathé’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s not new to HR technology. He’s also the founder of RiseSmart, which was acquired for more than $100 million by Randstad in 2015.
Launched in late 2021, Sathé’s SucceedSmart platform allows hiring managers to select pre-screened executive candidates through a single-blind profile intended to highlight accomplishments rather than demographic details that could invoke discrimination. Sathé says removing bias in the hiring process was one of his key drivers in establishing SucceedSmart. “Executive search is broken,” he says. “All talent should have equal opportunity.”
Recruiting with ‘information symmetry’
The platform works as a search and match system. The candidate receives a signal of interest from the employer and decides whether to interact with the executive opportunity. At that point, the communication moves from platform-driven to person-to-person. “AI tech does the heavy lifting, but the last mile is done by humans,” says Sathé.
Sathé says SucceedSmart offers “information symmetry,” functioning as “not a search firm, but a platform.” This creates an environment of equal access to information for both applicants and recruiters. The platform uses tech to replace time-consuming screening interviews with pre-recorded videos and answers to “coffee questions.” It equips recruiters with a “transparent and democratic” platform at one-third of the cost of traditional executive search, according to Sathé.
SucceedSmart’s average time to hire across 22 industry segments is four to five weeks, according to Sathé. A typical executive search, says SucceedSmart’s founder, could take four to six months or more. Bersin says that SucceedSmart’s model is “scaling the process by orders of magnitude,” and certainly, this level of productivity, he notes, is one way it is making an impact.