What I’ve Learned In 25 Years of Executive Search

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It seems like just yesterday that I walked into a Management Recruiters office and started my profession in Executive Search.

I really knew nothing about the business, other than it was my job to call people with opportunities and convince them to talk to my clients.

Fast forward 25 years and I do mean, fast forward. I’ve learned so much about human nature, mental toughness, intuition, and sheer grit. I have many moments of pride, but just as many mistakes that created the person who is standing in my mirror, 25 years later. I’ve been scared, challenged, rewarded, and taken outside my comfort zone in every way possible. But I’m still standing. Many others simply did not make it.

As I cross the quarter century mark, I took some time to reflect on what this business has taught me, the legacy I hope to leave, and why I believe I made it through three recessions, a pandemic, divorce, and the list goes on. My lessons are universal for anyone who has ventured out as an entrepreneur.

1. This one may have been obvious to many, but I was so naïve how hard it would be to own a business. The amount of learning that goes into everything from managing cash flow, meeting customers’ expectations, hiring the right team, making tough decisions, etc. was beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m really proud to say, that while not perfect, we have an amazing team and loyal clients we love and respect.

2. If you are going to survive in business, you have to make bold moves quickly with ridiculous courage. My favorite story, which I remind myself of when I need courage, is Dolly Parton’s story when Elvis wanted to sing her song, “I Will Always Love You”. Problem was, Elvis never sang a song unless he owned the publishing rights to the song. Well Dolly was a young female in the music business but stood her ground on publishing rights and said NO to Elvis Presley. No one did that! Fast forward, not only did Dolly record this #1 hit single, but Whitney Houston kept it at #1 on the charts for 14 weeks, making Dolly over $10 million in royalties. Courageous, but what a great decision!

3. When my business was pretty new, I had a mentor that told me, “The first time you think you should fire someone, you should.” This advice seemed so harsh to me. Boy did I learn the hard way. Not taking that advice has cost me financially, culturally, physically, etc. From these mistakes, I’ve learned to better listen to my “spidey” sense and trust my gut instinct.

4. Leaders I want to emulate are always the hardest working people in the room. They have an inner drive and passion for their craft, and it keeps them going through the ups and downs of business. I decided early on that my personal mantra would be, “Extraordinary, not Ordinary”. When I need motivation, I repeat this to myself over and over and it helps me to keep my mind strong and my heart focused on my short and long-term aspirations.

5. You need to be a thought-leader if you are going to stay ahead of the pack and remain relevant. Taking risks is part of being a thought-leader. Not all risks pan out, but none will if you never try. Thoughtful risk taking is so important when in a competitive world of work!

6. Giving back to our community with our search talents was one of the best business decisions we ever made.  I still remember our first pro-bono search. My company was not even six months old and of course everyone thought I was crazy to do such a high level, time consuming search pro-bono. Best decision ever! Not only did I get to meet the people that today make up my friends’ group, but in just the past ten years we have done 80+ searches for the community pro-bono. The result? Our community is now able to offer so many more services to those in need because they have professional leadership that has taken these organizations to a whole new level. It is the one legacy I will always be the proudest of.

7. What other people think of you is none of your business. There will always be people who don’t like you, especially in a business like mine. I struggled with all of that in the beginning – I wanted to be a people pleaser. Learning to live an authentic life, not for anyone else, but for yourself and one that emulates your personal values means choosing happiness. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to accept this.

8. One is only significant if you only have one – I tell my team this all the time. What this means is, make sure you always have options, for yourself, your business, and your clients. Multiples help to ultimately create the win. Everyone wants choices.

9. Every issue I have ever encountered could have been avoided or lessened with good communication. Issues, challenges, misunderstanding – all of it would have been avoided if someone would just take the initiative and ask the question. Sometimes I feel I’m too candid, but better that than creating bigger issues without asking the tough questions. I joke that I lost my filter about 15 years ago in this business. But the reality is, if you get knocked down enough, you overcome any anxiety about calling things the way you see them.

10. I am the lucky one – I still absolutely love what I do every day. Despite every challenge I would do it all over again, I love my job that much. I get to talk to the best and brightest in their given craft every day. I get to work with really great people who work very hard. And I’ve been able to take care of my daughter as a single Mom and help her to have a pretty nice life.

Twenty-five years. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who has been a part of this journey. I have received so many blessings. And I’m not even close to being done yet.


Sharon Hulce is President/CEO of Employment Resource Group, Inc. (ERG) based in Appleton and a 25-year veteran of the Executive Search industry. Sharon is known in her industry as an innovation leader who works tirelessly on finding the right talent for her clients, while also focusing on the empowerment and retention of that talent. Sharon understands the emotional intelligence, competencies, knowledge and social interaction necessary to integrate new hires into a corporate culture for success. She recently was honored for her innovation as Management Recruiter International (MRI) Person of the Year.

Sharon has served on numerous boards including: Fox Valley Technical College, Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Theda Clark Medical Foundation, YMCA of the Fox Valley and United Way. She has also been involved in many national boards throughout the staffing industry and is a proud member of The Pinnacle Society, a consortium of the top 80 recruiters in the country. Sharon is a sought-after speaker, sharing her thought leadership at countless corporate presentations, national conferences and even a TEDx talk. She has received many awards for her work and recently became a Forbes published author of her first book, “A Well Done Professional Midlife Crisis” available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or SharonHulce.com.

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