Posted on: 3/16/2023

Is executive search a vanishing profession?


At the first-year anniversary of the merger with SRI, I have been reflecting of late on the executive search industry, in its various forms, and the theme of evolution.

My own career to date has been legal (10 years), commercial (12 years), and then executive search, coming up to 20 years. Back when I first mentioned to various mentors and friends that I was thinking about entering the world of executive search, there were a surprising number of naysayers on the basis of this was becoming a vanishing profession. Digital developments, algorithms, and social media were all gathering pace, and there was a growing expectation that candidates could be identified, validated, and hired through technology alone – even at a senior level.

And yet here we are, nearly 20 years later, with the industry seemingly as hale and hearty as when I entered it.

Why might this be? I think the answer is rather simple; people relate to people and the subtleties and complexities of human nature have not yet been reduced to algorithms and data points. With artificial intelligence gaining ground very fast, perhaps this will change, but the very human need to interact, to take both the obvious and subtle messaging away from any interaction is not something I foresee being readily replaced.

And that’s not even to mention the need for giving guidance at all stages, being a supportive (and occasionally critical but) always trusted adviser throughout the search process, and bringing a lot of hard won experience to bear on new situations. That is one thing about search, you always find something new!

People are full of infinite variety.  Being part of SRI, where we value collaborative partnership with our clients above all, bringing the level of service and insights that are so important to finding the right candidates for the business at that stage of their evolution is so rewarding. And why a human touch is needed. This is a world of nuance that can only be properly nailed through collaborative, intuitive relationships with clients and candidates both.

I see strong parallels with the media industry which has continued to involve at an ever-increasing pace during my time within it. The basics remain the same – content creation, distribution, and commercialization – but the mechanics, especially of the latter two, have evolved to almost unrecognisable levels from 20 years ago. With more to come.

When choosing a profession or career, it is obviously very hard to know whether it will survive technological progress or indeed utilise the new to evolve to a better state. I don’t think any of us would choose to go back to a world purely of linear programming, for example. But thinking on the essential need you are serving, and whether it is and always has been a basic human need, whether it be storytelling, entertainment or counsel, is probably not a bad start.


John Keeling

Managing Partner, Global Head of Media and Content