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Executive Search – what’s different?

Executive Search – what’s different?
1st June 2018 Amy
Executive Search - 'search' made out of scrabble tiles

Executive Search – what’s different?

What is Executive Search?

There are many different definitions of executive search but put most simply, executive search is a service used by organisations who are looking to find highly-aligned candidates to fulfil senior-level opportunities. An Executive Search Consultant, sometimes known as a ‘Headhunter’ will directly approach highly-aligned professionals who may or may not be actively looking for a new role. It is the approaching of these ‘passive candidates’ that are the real distinction between Executive Search and Recruitment Consultation.


Executive Search is split into two types: Contingency and Retained

Executive Search firms may work predominantly on Retained searches or focus on Contingency searches; others may have a combination of the two. Both avenues have success but serve different requirements to the organisation. The Executive Search organisation will take a fee for the placement of a successful candidate in both cases, usually around the 25% – 33% benchmark but this can vary from company-to-company depending on the skill level and expertise of the firm.

Contingency searches are charged once the candidate is placed into the role. They are usually completed on a ‘search by search’ basis and involve no upfront fee for the organisation. Whilst there is no direct commitment from the Executive Search firm or the organisation recruiting staff, this method of search cuts out a lot of the paperwork involved in Retained Search. This ensures faster time-to-hire and allows the organisation to approach an Executive Search firm that are specialists within particular industries as opposed to having to approach the firm they have already committed to, who may not be able to help with that particular role.

Alternatively, Retained searches usually require an initial fee from the organisation in order to ‘retain’ the Executive Search firm to conduct the search. Fees are usually broken down into percentages paid at different stages of the recruitment process. Whilst this exclusive agreement has it’s positives for the organisation in that it may make budgeting easier and encourage collaboration between Executive Search firm and organisation. It can also have its challenges, as mentioned above.


Executive Search uses a different approach

Typically, the majority of candidates approached by an Executive Search firm are passive, meaning they are not actively looking for a new role or opportunity. As a result, the techniques used by Executive Search are different. The Executive Search firm will ‘search for’ and then approach the most suitable candidate directly.

Executive Search firms are usually enlisted to fill C-Level positions such as Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Finance Officer and Senior Vice President. The reason Executive Search firms find success within this, is that it is usually quite a specific requirement and organisations do not have the internal resource to dedicate to finding talent that would highly-align – especially if the most suitable candidates are not presently looking for a new role. Office Vibes 2017 survey indicated that 75% of professionals are passive candidates. These candidates are highly sought-after, as generally they are not registered or represented by other agencies and not engaging in other opportunities.

Executive Search consultants will work in a collaborative way, in partnership with their client. The approach is much more consultative. They will be able to manage client expectations regarding the salary they are proposing for a role, current market conditions and potential companies of interest. As a result Executive Search consultants usually know their specialist markets inside and out and know the best companies to source potential candidates. It’s also common for Executive Search consultants to have extensive networks of high-level professionals that they can utilise for particular key hires.


If you’re looking for an Executive Search firm to assist you with your next C-Level hire within the software industry, we can help. Contact us for more information, or view our client testimonials here.