Executive search is a specialised type of recruitment focussed on sourcing senior level executives and governance professionals. While the outcome is similar – finding the right talent – executive search is significantly different from a typical recruitment process. And that’s a key motivator for businesses to utilise the services of an external recruitment partner.

But like recruitment, not all search firms are the same.

Why is it important to choose the executive search firm for your organisation?

Good businesses value each and every member of their team, recognising their collective contribution to overall organisational success. However not all roles are the same.

Senior level positions are typically characterised as business-critical in that they have a disproportionate impact on an organisation’s bottom line. The defining characteristic of a strategically important position is performance and the potential impact of success or failure is greatest.

Put simply, the consequences of hiring the wrong person are significant.

Due to the criticality of the role, finding, attracting and securing the best talent can be challenging. It’s why businesses typically partner with an executive recruitment consultancy, even if they have in-house recruitment teams.

The benefits of using an external executive recruiter

Gone are the days where advertising a vacancy on an online job site will deliver you a reasonable number of qualified candidates. Today’s global talent market has become increasingly candidate-driven, with very low levels of unemployment and talented executives highly sought after.

This is where enlisting the services of an executive search firm contributes to better outcomes, through:

• Access to broad and deep connections and networks, delivering a wider pool of qualified candidates.
• Benefiting from their professional expertise and knowledge.
• Bringing objectivity, fresh perspectives and diversity of thinking to the recruitment and selection process.
• Value-add services that they contribute to delivering a robust recruitment process.
• Freeing up your time (and your teams) with focussed results.

Executive recruiters are experts at identifying and finding top talent, because that’s their job. They are building relationships with talent each and every day – across industry and role types – in a way that is unmatched by in-house recruitment teams.

Selecting the right recruitment partner, gives you access to their connections and networks which are invaluable.

When you partner with an external recruiter you are paying for their professional experience and specialist knowledge which they use to help solve a client’s problems, a.k.a the placement of a candidate into a role. Executive recruiters, however, are driven by a greater purpose – improving organisational effectiveness. This means finding great leaders who unlock the human potential in an organisation.

As with any external provider, executive recruiters bring objectivity to a recruitment process. Challenging your view of what success looks like for a role and what is really required in the ‘ideal’ candidate. And this includes bringing a diverse range of potential candidates into a search process, widening talent pools and contributing to an organisation’s wider diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

An often-overlooked aspect of utilising the service of an executive recruiter is the value-add they contribute to a recruitment process. From finding talent, through to best practice candidate assessment and selection, securing a placement and beyond.

Executive recruiters provide insights, knowledge and guidance that contributes greatly towards achieving the right outcome. This may include for example, commentary on competitive remuneration, ongoing leadership development, best practice succession planning, advanced behavioural assessment and onboarding practices.

Executive roles are often long-tenure so recruitment can be infrequent which means organisation’s often underestimate the rigour and time required to recruit the very best leadership talent. While it is critical to allocate time and prioritise a senior leader search, a key benefit of utilising the services of an executive recruiter is that it frees up your time and that of your team, which typically means faster results.

Don’t forget that there is an opportunity cost related to an unfilled senior role; using a highly focussed executive recruiter can help bridge that gap.

The different types of executive recruiters

External recruitment providers broadly fall into one of two categories: retained executive search or contingent recruiting.

Retained executive search firms specialise in sourcing senior level talent, their expertise goes beyond what you would expect from a typical recruitment consultancy. They work closely with clients to understand both the organisation and its culture, contributing knowledge and expertise of talent markets and assessment approaches, to ensure hiring decisions are based on the right person who is the right fit for the right role.

Given the time and commitment to the assignment, retained firms tend to limit the number of clients and work on an exclusive basis for a particular role vacancy. This is also reflected in their fee – both in terms of its structure with payments typically made in instalments, and the investment which reflects the thoroughness of the process and the resources required to deliver it.

Conversely, contingency firms are only paid once a placement has been made. Because their recruitment process is transactional and placement-oriented, they typically narrow their focus to active candidates. And because of volume, they work with primarily non-executive positions or roles, where there are a large number of qualified candidates.

Because of the service they provide, retained executive search recruiters are often classified as specialised management consulting firms. It is important to emphasise that there is a high degree of privacy surrounding a recruitment process. Senior level talent, especially passive candidates, are often reluctant to engage with recruiters who are not working with an employer on an exclusive basis.

In addition to the above, a recruitment provider may also offer a recruitment process outsourcing (or RPO) service. It effectively means that the recruiting firm is acting as a company’s internal recruitment provider, for some or all vacant roles.

It is likely that even if an organisation has an internal recruitment/HR team, and/or an RPO provider, they will still seek the services of an executive search firm for key senior roles.

What makes a good executive recruiter?

Achieving the best outcome in executive recruitment requires an open and honest partnership with your provider. Transparency is a two-way street. That means being honest about your organisation and the type of candidate who would succeed in a role. And trusting that your search partner will openly and candidly share information at each stage of the process. It’s a relationship built on trust and communication first and foremost.

But what else should you be looking for in a recruitment provider?

  1. Balance of specialist search and recruitment knowledge.
  2. Evidence of deep national and international search networks.
  3. Demonstratable relevant experience.
  4. A well-defined executive search strategy.
  5. Understanding of the role and competencies required.
  6. Proven commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  7. Ability to grow with your business and continue to support you in other ways.
  8. Alignment in regard to the recruitment process and expectations of all parties.
  9. Commitment to the partnership and finding the right candidate, for example a guarantee period and/or assigning a director for oversight on the assignment.

Ultimately, recruitment is a people business. You need to have confidence that the interactions you have with an executive recruiter reflect your organisation’s values and culture because they will be representing your business to the market and potential candidates.

Need Help?

Decipher Group are industry experts in the recruitment of executive, c-suite level professionals, and governance leaders for New Zealand and Australian businesses. We’ve been connecting talented people to exciting opportunities for 15 years. Let’s talk.

The Decipher Team

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People Also Ask

A short Q&A with our team on related questions that people commonly search for on Google.

Finding an executive recruiter

The obvious place to start is by connecting with recruitment consultancies you have used in the past. However, if they are not executive search specialists or you believe they are not the right fit for the assignment, then start by asking your networks for referrals.

Searching online will likely produce an extensive list of providers which you can distil by reviewing their website and other sources like a recruiter’s LinkedIn and/or company pages which give you insights into the types of roles they have recruited and their overall presence in the market.

What is the difference between recruitment and executive search?

While both have a similar objective of finding and hiring candidates, there is a significant difference in the approach and process used by recruitment and executive search firms. One of the main differences lies in the seniority level of roles, with executive recruiters targeting highly specialist senior level management or governance roles.

Given the narrower talent pools this influences the type of candidate and search approach, with executive recruiters focussed on both active and passive candidates to uncover the best possible talent. Executive search firms are also likely to operate nationally or internationally, given their respective talent pools.

What do executive recruitment firms charge?

The fees charged by executive recruitment firms vary widely. The majority operate on a retainer business model which means the fee is paid in advance or in instalments upon reaching agreed milestones.

The actual cost may be based on a flat fee or a percentage (anywhere from 15% – 35%) of the annual remuneration package for the role. There may be additional costs to consider, for example psychometric and behavioural assessments, advertising costs, travel and disbursements related to the process, and external probity checks.

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