The Search for Executives - A qualitative study exploring the reasonings of an executive search consultant
Abstract: This thesis aims to explore executive search consultants' reasonings for a candidate's suitability for a given position, and whether or not these align with the industry's ideal of an objective mission. In total, three research consultants and six recruitment consultants have been interviewed at one executive search firm (ESF). A rhetorical discourse analysis is applied to the collected empirical data to analyze the persuasive arguments (logos, ethos and pathos) the consultants employ. Ultimately, disclosing the level of subjectivity or/and objectivity that permeates their assessments. It has been found that the consultants' reasonings for the suitability of a candidate in the assignments showing low exigence (i.e. state of urgency), contained all three persuasive arguments, but to different degrees. In the assignments showing a high level of exigence, it was found that the consultants excluded at least one persuasive argument. Overall, the degree of and mix of inventions used, depended on what arguments the consultant deemed most effective in the given context of an assignment. Nevertheless, the results confirm that both objective and subjective forces influence the hiring practices at the studied ESF. This outcome is, according to scholars from the rhetorical field of study, "correct", since a rhetorician (i.e. consultant) must employ all three modes of persuasion to fully convey his/her message. This line of reasoning suggests that the consultants' reasonings will always exhibit some level of subjectivity, which in turn implies that the common mission of ESFs to have completely objective practices, is not plausible. This thesis helps to inform and alert ESFs about their biased practices, and why subjective assessments arise. In this way, they can use this information to improve their processes to come closer to their ideal of an objective mission.
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