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January 2014 Mid-Month Newsletter – The View from the Bottom

January 17, 2014



Dear friends and colleagues,

I’ve never met anyone who, as a young child, grew up dreaming of a career in executive search.  Fireman?  Astronaut?  Inventor?  Sure.   But a Recruiter??  There is no Bachelors in Recruitment Sciences offered at even the most liberal of liberal arts colleges.   In fact, every one of the many very fine search people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working over the past 13 years came to search from something else.   I need look no further than our firm where Terry (accountant), Ranju (environmental consultant), Rick (financial services), Lisa (higher education management) and myself, (recovering lawyer), all arrived at the career intersection on the corner of Same Street and Something Different Ave and chose to hang a left.   Typically it’s a combination of curiosity in people, an entrepreneurial instinct and a lack of passion for the thing you set out to do initially that leads one to search (the verb) and, then, to search (the noun).

Our junior man, Brendan, initially started down a path in politics.   Figuring that if he could elect a Liberal in downtown Calgary as Kent Hehr’s campaign manager in 2012 he could do just about anything, we hired Brendan a little over a year ago to be our official LMOTTP (low man on the totem pole).  The nice thing about search is that there are no actual barriers to entry meaning just about anyone can do it.  The unfortunate thing about search is that there are no actual barriers to entry meaning just about anyone can do it.    Few, I dare say, do it well.   The turnover in the industry is incredibly high with 80% of it coming within the first 12 months on the job.   Why?   Because most people figure “liking people” is enough.  But “liking people” isn’t actually a way to make a living.   You actually have to know how to read people, how to understand people, and how to listen to people.   It is a very nuanced job, unregulated and covered in grey area and ambiguity.  Liking people has about as much to do with success as a pilot liking buttons.

Brendan has just survived year one.   We, and he, are better for it.   I asked him to tell his story as part of our mid-month newsletter featuring Pekarsky Stein original content.   We hope you enjoy it along with the sampling of other interesting reads we have provided you.



The View from the Bottom

As Adam mentioned you’re stuck with me for the mid-January newsletter. My one-year anniversary just blew by and what a year it was.  As a 27 year old, anti-Gen “Y”, un-entitled small town kid who grew up on a farm, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  When I started out in search I assumed I was going to be kind of like Ari Gold from Entourage, but then again I also kind of thought going into politics was going to be like Spin City. I should probably watch less TV.  Still, there are some interesting connections between my two most recent grown-up jobs, first in politics and now in search.

People, people, people! Both politics and search revolve around the people involved, and I don’t just mean the candidates. On a political campaign the focus is on volunteers and voters. Managing those volunteers can be very challenging at times for a number of reasons, but mostly because everyone wants to work on campaign strategy and the campaign really just needs them to door-knock (pro-tip: door-knocking is the strategy). Those volunteers are going to be making contact with voters on behalf of the campaign at the doors, on the phone, or at a function they are hosting. As a Campaign Manager you not only have to manage those volunteers but also the interactions they are having with voters.  This is done most often through extensive volunteer training and scripting.

At Pekarsky Stein we know people. That’s the tagline for our firm that the marketing gurus over at Foundry Communications came up with during the re-brand last summer. People are so important to our business we felt it necessary to adopt that tagline and plaster it on basically everything (don’t ask me to show you my Pekarsky Stein initiation tattoo).  But “we know people” isn’t just a marketing tool; it’s how we do business. Sure we know a lot of people and many are in our database (more on that later) but we also understand people and that understanding is much more valuable to our clients than a bunch of names in a database.  After all, that’s what LinkedIn is…but, as Adam likes to say, I digress.

Data is king in a political campaign. All those volunteers, knocking on all those doors, it’s one giant data gathering exercise. The key pieces of data being gathered? Name, phone number, address, email, and most importantly which candidate will you be supporting. The quality (see also legibility) and accuracy of the data being brought back to the campaign can make or break it. It’s mighty hard to arrange a ride to the polls for Mrs. Johnson on Election Day as she requested, if we can’t read the phone number written down by the volunteer who knocked on her door.

Data is just as important in the search business.  We use a pretty cool piece of software called Daylite. Okay “cool” might be a stretch for a database but compared to what I’m used to using on a shoestring political campaign budget it is pretty neat. There are literally thousands of people in Daylite who in one-way or another have come into contact with our firm: as a candidate, a source, a client, a vendor, or even a friend.  Keeping track of who’s who in the zoo can be an exhausting exercise and Daylite helps with that.  Like a political campaign we are only as good as the accuracy of the data.  If contact information isn’t updated, emails aren’t linked, and profiles aren’t current the whole system is not only useless it can even be detrimental.

Having some organizational wherewithal comes in handy on election campaigns, especially on Election Day when the campaign mobilizes all of its volunteers (hundreds) to get every identified voter (tens of thousands) to the polls. Not only that but you are also coordinating a scrutineer for every voting station in the riding and drivers for any voters who may need a ride (don’t forget Mrs. Johnson). In addition all of the volunteers need to be watered and fed throughout the day.  In fact Election Day can be such a nightmare that lots of campaigns will have one person who’s only job for the campaign is preparing a plan for Election Day and executing it.  I was lucky enough to do just that for Councilor Evan Woolley during his successful run for Calgary City Council this past fall.

Although search doesn’t always involve the logistical headaches you can get in a political campaign, staying organized is absolutely critical. I won’t lie to you; keeping track of a single search mandate is relatively easy. But I don’t work on a single search mandate at a time. In fact right now I’m working on fifteen different projects which is a bit like running 15 different campaigns. Part of the organization comes from Daylite with its weekly tracking reports. The rest of it comes from following the search processes developed by the firm. I may be new to search but Adam and Terry aren’t and there is a method to the madness.

Politics is by nature a very adversarial business; in fact it has been called a bloodbath. On the campaign your team is competing for sign locations, media attention, and of course votes.  The grind of the campaign and the adversarial nature makes people go a little bit crazy. I once had an opposing campaign manager phone me absolutely irate and declare he and I were now at war. Suffice to say by the end of an election it’s very likely there will be a lot of animosity between your team and the other guys.

Search isn’t really adversarial at all. I’m told it’s different in the contingent world (the “shark tank” as Adam calls it) but with most of our work being senior level retained search I just don’t feel like I’m fighting against other search firms in the same way you do in politics.

24/7 is not just a hockey show on HBO (memo to self: stop watching so much TV).  It’s also the number of hours a day and days per week you’re expected to be available during a political campaign.  If disaster should strike you’re expected to take action. Look no further than Mayor Naheed Nenshi and his response to the flood disaster this June.  Politics will ebb and flow with a scandal, a disaster, or as an election grows near but the expectation of being available 24/7 is always there.

It’s only been a year, but so far I’ve only had two candidates call me on a weekend. In addition I’ve had zero request for emergency meetings with clients on the weekends. I’ve certainly worked several weekends to keep up with the volume of work but nothing emergency related. Although I’m not “on call” 24/7 there is a constant pressure to be making progress on all my searches.

At the end of the day search is a people business that requires good data management and solid organization procedures; just as campaign management does.  So, good riddance to Mrs. Johnson and being on call 24/7 and unilateral declarations of war.  The similarities probably explain my ability to pick this up as an amateur and not completely embarrass myself (albeit with plenty of guidance and even more patience from the entire Pekarsky Stein team). I’ve had a blast in my first year with the firm and can’t wait to see what the future holds.


This month’s featured articles:

 – Over on Macleans Your job is as safe as it has ever been.  Unless of course it’s not.

 – Jordon Furlong discusses the coming legal revolution on his Law 21 blog.

 – Dan Waldschmidt has figured out the 19 hard things you need to do to be successful on Business Insider.

 – Kate Chisholm has advice for Breaking the reactive cycle in-house on Canadian Lawyer Mag.


Check out more great material at