How Executive Search Firms Work

Executive search firms are specialized type of recruitment firms that aim to deliver extensive services beyond searching. They seek to develop a more hands-on relationship with the company and also make use of exhaustive processes to land the right candidate.

They do this by taking into consideration the organization and its culture, the candidate’s assimilation into the company for maximum success, and counseling executive leadership and boards. They practice in-depth research, networking, thorough screening, and effective recruitment methodologies to ensure a positive outcome for the client.

The recruitment services they can offer are often consultative, research-based and solution oriented. They are hired for a set period of time to conduct a search and paid an upfront fee, but the goal is to create a long-term relationship built on trust.

They specialize in conducting upper-level management and executive positions that require professional and personality-wise higher qualifications advanced search. Executive search recruiters offer industry-specific knowledge to ensure that only the most qualified and fitting candidates are selected.

It is crucial to remember that executive search firms represent the organization or the company, and not the talent. They give top talents access to “hidden job market” that are of high and good compensated positions. For talents who approach executive recruiters to look for better job positions, executive search firms keep their pursuit private and confidential.


The Increasing Need For Executive Search Firms

The tight competition in recruitment has companies scrambling for innovative ways to land executive level talents. In-house recruitment, where the organization’s recruiters post up job posting on job search sites, shortlist candidates, and then interview, have become an unreliable source of talents.

Traditional recruitment is not necessarily headed for failure. It works but this recruitment strategy has often resulted in mis-hires, which can be damaging for the company when it comes to executive positions. In fact, the average cost of a mis-hire is as much as 27 times the base salary for an executive.


Hiring for executive posts is trickier than your mid or entry-level positions and takes more careful consideration. Completely relying on online job boards is not going to completely give you your desired results since you limit your options and this is stopping you from reaching a wider pool of qualified candidates.

Hence, executive search firms with their expertise, technology, and industry knowledge are now becoming a go-to solution for many companies. In 2013, 5.9% of companies’ external hires were recruited by search firms. It is almost twice the 2012 percentage and also reported to be the highest number in more than a decade.


Although there has been an increase in search assignments for recruitment firms, a lot of professionals are still unfamiliar on the inner workings of executive search firms. As an HR leader of your company, it can be a bit frustrating not to know what goes on “behind the curtain”.

In the previous articles, we already touched on what recruitment firms are and its many different types.  We mentioned executive search firms briefly, their nature of collaboration, methodologies, and the hiring needs it can address. But this time around, we are going to do more digging on how partnering with an executive search firm actually works.

Whether you’re a company in search for your next executive, or a talent seeking for challenging positions, you can use this article as a guide to learn more about executive search, the best ways to connect with executive search firm experts, and comprehend how the search process works from both the company’s and the talent’s perspectives.

But before we get into that, let’s first discuss how you can maximize the results you can get out of an executive search firm partnership.


How To Boost Your Hiring Success When Working With An Executive Search Firm

When partnering with an executive search firm, make sure that you are involved in the recruitment process – cooperation from the key players is vital – that way you know what’s actually happening and if anything goes wrong, you can address it right away.

The most important recruitment decisions should have your stamp of approval. Relay to your subordinates the importance of the search and should be open to their opinions. Have an inquisitive attitude towards the executive search consultants; ask for their methodologies and how they are going to conduct your research.

It’s also important that you have a smooth relationship with your executive search consultant. Let them know beforehand how you like to operate and what you are expecting in this partnership.

Also, some executive search firms are experts in particular fields or industry. Some are specializing in IT and analytics search, expert search, and engineering search. Make sure to choose the firm that closely fits your hiring needs.


So now that we got the most important part out, we can move on to the meat of our discussion.


How Do Executive Search Firms Work?

The executive search process typically involves the search firm providing qualified talent, facilitating an interview, and negotiating salary expectations from both the client and the candidate. When a placement has been made, the executive search firm receives a fee from the company or organization for the services it provided. Whether they get hired or not, candidates are not expected to pay any fee for their involvement in the recruitment process.

During all the stages of the recruitment process, keep in mind that be completely honest and direct about the job description, compensation, salary, geographic location, and other important details when speaking with executive search firms.




  • Meeting With An Executive Search Firm

If you are a company or an organization, it’s pretty easy to set up a meeting with an executive search firm. You can scour the internet for different executive search firms, then contact them by visiting their websites and reach out via emails or calls.



After choosing your trusted firm, you meet with executive search professionals to set up the conditions and agreements of the recruitment process and for contract signing. In this arranged meeting, you can discuss your preferred candidate, job requirements, timeline, and your company’s recruitment methodologies to find a way to assimilate it with the executive search firm’s strategies.

After the initial meeting, more meetings can be conducted. The search firm may meet with the key executives to do a more in-depth study of the hiring company and the market, identify important opportunities for the candidate, and how they are going to fit the company’s culture and structure.

If you are a talent, it is a slightly different process. Sure, some executive search firms go through extra lengths by putting up a function in their website where candidates can apply. But not all executive search firms do that. Hence, if you want to get noticed by executive recruiters, you need to put in the extra effort.  


In the executive search firm’s perspective, you are “unsolicited” if you are the one who approached them. You may or may not fit their clients’ demands for talents right now. If your set of skills are what their clients are looking for, then you’re in luck. But if not, do not be too disappointed because something can still turn up in the future.

Maintaining contact with your choice of executive recruiters is beneficial to both the talent and the executive search firm. Like any networking system, this is not going to produce immediate results but is a steady and continuing means for career development.

Executive search professionals make it their business to remain in the loop with the marketplace and always be updated with market changes so do not hesitate to reach out to them because they want to talk to you too. But do make sure you are willing to share valuable information. Commentaries about the market from top talents and companies are of interest to executive search professionals.


  • Creating Candidate Personas

The in-depth research from the succeeding meetings is going to be the basis for this step. It is a must to have a clear idea of the candidate you need for the position so the executive search firm can fit the candidate persona to the job description provided.

It’s a dummy account containing detailed information about the role of the candidate, responsibilities the candidate must assume in the company, compensation, and opportunities included in the executive position, and the career and educational requirements.


  • Finalize The Search Plan—Strategy for Talent Mapping And Sourcing

This is the stage where further research is conducted to figuring out where and how potential talents are going to be sourced. Usually the technology, tools, and strategy that form their recruitment search are included in their own database, network, market analysis, online job boards, advanced online search techniques, and they can even have headhunters who can personally seek out talents.


Search firms find their clients right talent by exhaustively using their resources. To further refine their pool, they hold interviews, salary negotiation, and other vital details in the recruitment process.


  • Shortlisting Executive Candidates

Executive search consultants narrow down their list of candidates – the first list usually contains hundreds of names but would be narrowed down through another screening to see if tthe candidate is fit for the job description given and get your approval.

After meeting your set of standards, by this time, there are at least 10 shortlisted candidates, who are carefully assessed by recruiters to answer your hiring needs, in relation to the candidate’s company interest and trajectory.


  • Closing The Search And Welcoming Your New Executive

Executive searches often last for a month or two, depending on the agreed timeline. When the long search has finally ended, you can discuss your contract and conditions with your new executive. The executive firm may be present during the negotiation to make sure everything goes well.


Final Thoughts

The executive search process can be long and tedious. It involves a lot of steps, and in every step, the search firm and the client have to be meticulous and must practice cooperation. Just be patient and trust the process for as long as you did your research and chose your trusted executive search firm, and you stay involved in the recruitment decisions, then you already have the perfect recipe for success.