Afilm actress in the 1920s named Clara Bow was known as the “It Girl.” Audiences loved her. She had many qualities, but the ones that made her most captivating were simply indefinable. She was charismatic and a thorough professional, but more precisely she had “It.”
Executive search consultants find themselves constantly in pursuit of “It” when executing projects for their clients. As important as finding “It” is in the search process, though, it is not easy to identify.
Montana had “It” on the football field. Patton had “It” on the battlefield. John Wayne had “It” on the big screen. Warren Buffet has “It” in the boardroom. But what is “It”?
Smart Business spoke with Brian Trueblood, a search consultant for TNS Partners Inc., to get a feel for what “It” is, how it is identified, and what role “It” plays in the executive search process.
What is ‘It’?
‘It’ is that something special that an individual has that transcends normal skill sets and qualifications. By definition, it is difficult to describe.
‘It’ is a combination of personality and intangibles that fit a particular organization. Clearly, ‘It’ can be different for each leadership team, functional area and company. When a consultant sits down with a candidate, the ‘It’ factor is as important as any other element.
How does an executive search consultant recognize ‘It’?
It is an intuitive skill often honed through experience. ‘It’ is seldom revealed in phone interviews or written documents. In the face-to-face environment of a personal interview, the experienced consultant can uncover ‘It.’
A consultant can identify multiple candidates for an opportunity, all equally qualified on paper. But what separates them ultimately is ‘It.’ Significantly, ‘It’ defines why one candidate might become wildly successful while others will not.
Is ‘It’ by itself a viable criterion on which to base a hiring?
No. A candidate still has to demonstrate the range of skills and attributes that are part of the evaluation process. Just as individuals who look appropriate on paper may not be an overall fit, those who have ‘It’ but do not demonstrate enough of the other skills and attributes will likely not be successful. Clearly, most clients would rather have someone who was lacking in a more tangible experience or skill set than one who had all the boxes checked, but missed on the intangibles. Having ‘It’ can help compensate for a lack of specific assets and skills.
Some readers may confuse ‘It’ with other qualities often associated with dynamic, engaging people. ‘It’ does not mean the most charismatic or polished individual; it is more than pizzazz. ‘It’ is deeper and less obvious than simply the boardroom presence people often use as a definition. While sometimes ‘It’ is apparent in an individual in the first moments of an interview, many times it is a function of a longer, deeper evaluation and assessment.
Is the ability to identify ‘It’ a special gift that executive search consultants possess?
It is a skill that executives involved in the recruiting process, both internally and externally, develop over time.
Inexperienced consultants confuse sizzle, personality and charisma with ‘It.’ The confusion is easy to understand. People want to define ‘It’ as smooth, or gregarious, or someone who lights up the room. We aren’t picking class presidents. ‘It’ is the set of qualities that transcends functional areas. ‘It’ defines why some ‘non-salesy’ people make great salesmen. ‘It’ explains why the introverted technical expert leads the next IT revolution. ‘It’ exposes the reality that the smartest, smoothest and most polished people don’t always end up successful. ‘It’ is what is behind the individual’s ability to accomplish the mission, regardless of the adversity.
The best consultants learn to identify this intangible through the experience gained meeting with hundreds of executives over time.
How hard is it to convince clients that the candidate presented has ‘It’?
Generally, that is not a problem. Clients learn to trust their executive search partners’ abilities to select the best-qualified executives for an opportunity and they willingly meet them. Consultants prepare a comprehensive profile that goes beyond the typical rsum or curriculum vitae and helps define the person and his or her intangible qualities. This report assists the client in understanding the total person and what intangible qualities are apparent. Obviously, ‘It’ cannot be defined on the report, but most clients recognize ‘It’ in their own face-to-face meetings.
BRIAN TRUEBLOOD is vice president of TNS Partners Inc. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (214) 369-3565, ext. 114.