Do You Really Need to Use Recruiters?

Endowment CIO Mark Baumgartner tried to DIY. More than 450 resumes later, “I don’t recommend it.”

Illustration by II; Bigstock photos

Illustration by II; Bigstock photos

Mark Baumgartner — chief investment officer of the Institute for Advanced Study’s $800 million endowment — lost a member of his three-person team this spring, and opted to find a replacement without help from a recruiter.

“I don’t recommend it,” Baumgartner said. “But being a small institution, we are highly, highly cognizant of expenses. We believe recruiters provide great value — I have known many of them personally for many years— but we try to run the investment office as lean as possible.”

IAS recently found its new analyst. Adam Solan will be joining the Princeton-based research institution next month from State Street Global Advisors. With Solan in place, Baumgartner looked back on an arduous search.

“The process was absolutely more time consuming than I expected it to be,” he told Institutional Investor. “When someone leaves, you’re necessarily already busier than normal by taking on their responsibilities — and if you’re a small team, it’s even harder. To do that while trying to hire their replacement means you’re sacrificing something, most likely your personal life.”

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IAS posted the job on a variety of websites, and employees called on their networks to help get the word out. It worked — almost too well.

“We received over 450 resumes,” the CIO said. He and investment director Jeff Gatto each read every one, and “independently sorted and evaluated them, which was time consuming.” With the help of assistant Jill Larney, they interviewed 20 candidates — a little bit less than five percent of applicants — brought six back for second-round meetings and tests, and narrowed those down to three finalists that they checked references on.

Solan won the coveted position during the final due diligence stage. “With Adam, it was the references that did it — both the ones he provided, and our independent checks,” Baumgartner said. “It’s a good lesson to keep in mind: your talent, your reputation, how you interact with others — your brand — will be discovered by people when they conduct due diligence.”

IAS’ approach is typical for institutions running searches themselves, according to recruiter Marylin Prince of the Prince Houston Group. “When people hire directly, they usually do it one of two ways,” Prince told II. “First, they place an ad and rely on its responses, whereas recruiters are selecting candidates proactively. The other method is to use one’s network — but eventually networks get exhausted. The purpose of doing a full search is to look at the talent pool from many different angles.”

Another critical difference of working with a search professional is the impact on leaders’ time, noted James Houston, Prince’s partner. “How people value time is obviously very personal. Beyond saving time, we think there is a benefit from using a recruiter who goes through a systematic process and approaches people who aren’t actively looking.”

IAS’ search ate up many of Baumgartner’s nights and weekends, but he credits the DIY approach with some upsides beyond saving on recruiter fees. “We got to know people directly and establish new relationships that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said. “It also gave me even greater respect for search professionals’ value and skills.”

“We are so excited to have Adam joining us and the search behind us,” Baumgartner added. “We hope that we don’t have to do it again for another decade.”