Top Roles: What You Want vs What You Need

We have been working on an exclusive search for the head of Marketing/BD for an L.A. boutique and it has been a fascinating process. Why? Because often what a Firm thinks they want and what they need are not necessarily the same!

Whenever we begin a Director/CMO search, we interview the Executive Director who is running the search, as well as the attorneys who will work most closely with this new head of marketing/BD. We ask questions like:

  • What are the most critical projects for this new hire to focus on?
  • What kind of work style and personality will work best with your Partners?
  • Why have senior level managers failed in the past? 
  • What will success look like in 6 months if you hire the right person?

When asking these questions, I have received a wide range of answers – but all very helpful in painting a picture of what I need to search for, beyond experience and credentials, to find the right candidate. By the way, it is also very common to get 4 different view points from the 4 different Partners being asked these questions.

So, I do find it fascinating when a Firm is looking for a Director/CMO level candidate and there is a disconnect between how they answer the questions above and what it is they really need the CMO to do. Having watched this occur numerous times, I believe the disconnect happens for two main reasons:

  1. The attorneys do not know what it takes to get major initiatives accomplished (and they shouldn’t, because their job is “lawyering”). So, when interviewing, they don’t ask the right questions of the candidate. 
  2. They assume that if a candidate comes from a firm that is bigger or more successful than they are, then that marketing person must be good!

My goal, when working with a Firm launching a major search such as this, is to help them identify who they are and what they really need. We often find that the Firm needs to see a range of initial candidates; seeing what the talent pool looks like helps them clarify their needs. Once the Partners interview candidates with different backgrounds and hear what each can do for the Firm, it creates a much more tangible picture of what the role should be. We often see Firms return to the job description and make significant revisions after they’ve interviewed the first round of candidates and really narrowed in on what they need. The lesson I’ve observed many times over, is that knowing what you need when hiring a head of marketing/BD is extremely important, so you can both assess and sell the right candidate – but is not necessarily easy to do!

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