40 Years Friedrichs & Partner - Part 4

A journey through technology and work environments


We look back at 40 years of executive search, starting from 1983.


Four decades travelling through time in an industry that operates fundamentally differently today than it did in our early days.


It's almost unimaginable today how executive search worked back then.


Back in the early 80s, the main office communication tools were landline phone and fax machine. There were no mobile phones, and personal computers began to make their way into the German workplace only towards the late 80s and early 90s.


Since there were no mobile phones, executive search consultants could only reach potential candidates at their workplaces, using landline phones.


During that time, it was particularly challenging for executive search consultants to make initial contact with potential candidates because the contacted individuals couldn't freely speak.


It became even more challenging due to a Federal Court of Justice ruling in 2000, which banned calls from executive search consultants to candidates during working hours.


The ruling stated that while executive search consultants could generally poach employees, they could no longer call them at their workplace. The court argued that these calls disrupted daily operations of companies and placed employees in a loyalty conflict, making the company an unwitting accomplice.


Companies whose employees were called by executive search consultants at their workplace could demand significant compensation from the consultants. According to the court, these recruiters were blocking the phone lines and preventing employees from doing their work.


This ruling left executive search consultants in a legal gray area for a long time, with the looming threat of compensation claims.


Unimaginable from today's perspective.


It was only years later that the Federal Court of Justice pragmatically softened the ruling, allowing very brief calls to the workplace. Executive search consultants could now very briefly contact potential candidates at their workplace to obtain their private telephone numbers for a more detailed exchange.


The typical scenario looked like this:


Without much information, consultants quickly provided some hard facts in staccato and hoped to obtain the candidates' private landline numbers if they showed some initial interest.


It was a significant challenge to acquire valuable personal data from candidates based on minimal information in very little time.


Nowadays, this approach would be considered an absolute no-go Bildschirmfoto 2023-11-13 um 11.49.24


After a successful brief exchange, candidates would be contacted in the evening at their homes via the landline, and the available position would be presented. In some cases, these confidential conversations took place in front of the entire family since most households only had one mutual phone.


Before the turn of the millennium, evening hours were part of the daily core working hours for executive search consultants, making it quite long workdays.


It took several years after the turn of the millennium for mobile communication to make candidates much easier accessible.


Fun Fact:


The first "mobile phone" at Friedrichs & Partner in 1994 was a portable AEG car phone with an external antenna for the passenger window and a charger for the cigarette lighter. Proud owners would carry around these bulky "mobile phones" (weighing more than 2 kg!) to client meetings and interviews, making mobile communication quite inconvenient. Bildschirmfoto 2023-11-13 um 11.49.24


Not only were the phone calls to potential candidates different back then, but also the communication with clients was quite distinct from today, as the business world in the 80s and 90s could not work without fax machines.


Client confirmations and contracts were signed and sent via fax, and resumes and interview reports were also sent via fax. Additionally, complete original application documents with all attachments were sent via regular mail...


During that time, applications always reached us as extensive original application folders via mail and were then forwarded in full to the clients by mail, too.


Depending on the state of the economy, we received stacks of applications for our vacancies – causing a lot of work for us.


Fetching stacks of heavy envelopes from the post office, unpacking, writing acknowledgment of receipt letters in high volume, registering applications, and of course, reading and evaluating the full application packages thoroughly. Back then physically handling applications was tremendously labor-intensive.


Around the mid-90s, internet and emails started to change the professional world.


Communication with clients and candidates gradually became electronic, initially as a supplement to the reliable fax machine. Today, the communication is entirely digitalized.


Also market and candidate research were entirely different in our early days.


For more than ten years, we had to rely solely on analog and manual searches through thick business directories (such as "Kompass," etc.) for target companies.


In the mid-90s, the first DVDs with company directories were introduced – "Wer liefert was," "Kompass," etc. It was a significant leap in research.


A few years later, the first online databases were published in the internet, gradually making DVDs obsolete. Today, our market research is entirely online, increasingly supported by AI.


Last but not least, the working world itself has completely changed since our inception in 1983.


For long decades executive search was characterized by extensive travel. Especially in the 80s and 90s, when the working environment and its work models were still very rigid, and candidates were simply not available for interviews during their fixed daily working hours.


Thus, there was only one solution – candidates often had to use vacation days for interviews with executive search consultants and potential employers.


Try suggesting that to Millennials or Generation Z today! Bildschirmfoto 2023-11-13 um 11.50.15

Formerly, for candidates with a desire to change, sacrificing vacation days for their career advancement was simply unavoidable – it was a logical and accepted investment in their future.


It was not uncommon, especially towards the end of the business year, for candidates to have no more vacation days left. They would be available only late at night or even on weekends for interviews. At that time, executive search consultants and potential employers had to be highly flexible to conduct interviews with these candidates.


Also geographically, executive search consultants had to be extremely flexible. Until just before the COVID-19 pandemic, executive search consultants were typically found in airports, hotel lobbies, motor service stations or other public meeting places such as cafes and restaurants, conducting interviews across Germany.


In close proximity to the candidates, of course.


It was only at the beginning of 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the approach of executive search, rapidly digitizing the whole process.


Since then, online interviews have become widely accepted, replacing nationwide in-person interviews. For consultants and candidates alike, this eliminates the need for travel for the initial meeting, as video interviews allow for a timely and flexible first meeting.


Clients also use online interviews for initial meetings with candidates, skipping lengthily scheduling of in-person interviews.


Only recently, AI has started to change executive search, supporting some parts of the recruiting process. We have only seen the tip of the AI iceberg yet and we are excited to see what’s next.


In retrospect, technological progress and the increasing flexibility in the working world have gradually made our life as executive search consultants easier, creating room for even more qualitative work.


In the current war for talent these additional capacities make it possible to devote significantly more time and effort to communicating and advising potentially interested candidates (especially Millennials and Generation Z, who demand a lot of attention).




Mathias Friedrichs

Phone: +49 (0) 211 – 57 73 00




P.S.: For reasons of better readability of the contributions, the "male" formulation is chosen in each case.

However, all 3 genders are of course always addressed in the sense of equal treatment.