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Dale Jones evaluates whole person for CEO positions

New Diversified Search president—formerly of Heidrick & Struggles—looks for qualities beyond standard skills and abilities

Feb. 7, 2014
By William Ehart


Looking for a CEO job and planning to impress Dale Jones, president of Diversified Search?

Beyond the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities, Jones has extras he’s searching for in a leader. Things like humility, life balance, community involvement and well-rounded intellect. Good shoes make an impression too.

“We all have our own pet peeves or idiosyncrasies around people,” Jones told CEO Update in an interview at his Washington, D.C., office at 1990 M St. NW.

“I’m looking for people who use ‘we’ more than they use ‘I’. I’m looking for people who display a level of humility and a servant-like spirit in how they conduct their affairs with other people,” Jones said.

“I look for those who will give deferential respect and honor to other people in the organization, people who think more about teams than doing it on their own, people who have some sense of balance in their lives, around not only what’s important in work, but how does work relate to everything else? Those who will live more of an integrated life in terms of community and family, if there is one, or service or civic duty,” he said.

That’s not all. Try brushing up on Shakespeare.

“I want to know that people are well-versed, that they have some of the Renaissance person about them, to know they are well-read and well-traveled and well-spoken,” Jones said.

Jones, 54, said he learned the value of hard work—and good footwear—from his father, who owned a cobbler’s shop and worked as a janitor by night.

“Shoes being polished and soled is a pet peeve,” he said. “My dad always said you can tell a person by the shoes they’re wearing.”

Relationships instead of transactions

Jones took the number-two job at Diversified Search in October after 20 years in recruiting, the last 15 at Heidrick & Struggles. He reports to founder, Chairman and CEO Judee von Seldeneck and is working with the rest of the executive committee on a three-year strategic plan for the firm in a time of change for the industry.

At Heidrick, Jones placed leaders such as Christine Duffy, CEO of the $14 million-revenue Cruise Lines International Association and Heidi Brock, CEO of the $7 million-revenue Aluminum Association.

Echoing concerns voiced by veteran recruiter Pat Friel, who left Heidrick last year for Lochlin Partners, Jones said he wanted to take more time with each search than was possible at a large, publicly traded firm. Being midsize and global gives Diversified Search a competitive advantage over larger firms, he said.

“The larger you get, the more difficult it is to focus on and value relationships because you have to move quickly from one client to another and try to make it all up in volume,” Jones said.

Job seekers should seek long-term relationships with executive recruiters rather than short-term arrangements, he said.

“Having a conversation about an opportunity is more than a transaction, it’s the beginning of building a relationship because the person we meet might not be right for that specific opportunity, but he or she might be right for something else,” Jones said.

“If people see this as a one-off, they won’t take it seriously and go deep. Timing is a critical part of this because sometimes somebody may be prepared but the opportunity may not be there at that point in time. But realize that you have to give time and opportunity a chance to meet and sometimes they don’t happen on our time,” he said.

Psychological profiling

When Jones says he wants your story, he wants your whole life story.

“Search is both an art and a science,” he said. “One of the things we want to know is the story of every individual we meet and are thinking about placing for a job. We will ask candidates to tell us their story. They’ll often begin by saying, ‘I graduated from college in 1968,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, go back and tell us where you grew up and the kind of family you grew up in.’”

“When an individual takes you through all the aspects of their lives you’re able to measure leadership levels,” Jones said.

The firm also conducts psychological profiling, using personality inventory measures developed by psychologist Robert Hogan. 

“Somewhere between the testing, the references, the narrative and our assessment, there are things that come through that give us a better sense of the leader’s authenticity, motivations and aspirations, to give us a true sense of who they really are,” Jones said.

As other recruiters have noted, LinkedIn has changed the value proposition for search firms. 

“Names and research used to be a part of the golden goose and now they are commodities because everyone can find names,” Jones said.

“Today the premium is on how effective we are at predicting success, the long-term sustainability of our placements and their organizational impact,” he said.