Ten minutes with Jon Ridout, head of executive search at BT

Each quarter we interview a key corporate decision-maker, gleaning their views and opinions on a range of market issues.

Hi Jon. You’ve worked across a number of sectors during your career. Do you feel the challenges for heads of executive resourcing are largely the same in each industry?

Yes, I do on the whole. I think there are different philosophies about how to do the role so depending on the approach, the challenges are bound to be slightly different. Ultimately though, the premise is the same: how do you identify, assess, attract, on-board and retain the best executive talent? Of course, the other variable is the maturity of the organisation and how sophisticated business leaders are as buyers of talent.

What do you mean by that?

Well, my role always becomes easier if I can work with hiring managers and allow them to see the risks involved in any hiring procedure and the cost of getting it wrong. Then you just go about de-risking that process. No-one’s definitively worked out how to do that, but talent acquisition is always evolving and the best companies in any industry are the ones who have broken down the process and know what the challenges and opportunity costs are at each step of the way.

How is technology and big data changing the role of the talent professional?

Technology continues to disrupt the entire industry from entry level right up to exec. At the top level, though, you need to be making really informed hires so just knowing someone’s name and job title isn’t good enough. You need insights on their personality and working style. That network knowledge is priceless. That’s why we’re trialling some new technology which is based around referrals.

Is that bespoke?

I couldn’t comment, but what I will say is we’ve identified the need for more interesting data. I know some places that are still measuring time to hire and cost per hire – that feels outdated, especially when there is much richer data available, whether you source it via technology or more traditional research methods. And people should be wary of neglecting those more traditional approaches. Sometimes you just need someone to pick up a telephone and have a few carefully managed conversations with well-placed sources.

Before you moved in house you worked as an executive search consultant. How has this background informed the way you go about your current role?

I’ve been in house for a while now, but I was probably late to the in-house party, having spent so long on the other side of the fence. My philosophy and approach is absolutely built on my experiences as a search consultant. When it’s done well, there is so much value in executive search.

Define ‘done well’

That’s easy enough. Executive search should be a consulting service. In my search days, I’d encourage clients to come to me not with a job spec, but a problem. Then I’d go about solving it. That means finding not just candidates but game-changers, people who are going to transform a business and make that ‘problem’ go away.

Find the full interview in The Wilbury Whisper where we discuss diversity and the companies approaching it best.

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