Executive Search FAQs


Executive Search is a specialised type of recruitment which functions by finding highly qualified individuals for senior level and executive positions in public and private organisations. Whereas a recruiter will typically identify a number of people who are currently seeking employment, an executive recruiter will aim match the organisation with the perfect candidate for the Job. This allows for access to the best.


Rather than advertise roles online, an executive search firm employs a number of other methods to source candidates. Executive search often makes use of a researcher who will identify a shortlist of suitably qualified candidates, who work for competitors or related organisations, by searching employment-oriented websites such as LinkedIn and Reed. This is not limited to people looking for a new role as it is important to source from the widest pool when it comes to finding the best talent. Much of the process of executive search is relationship driven, and so the of already established connections with those in the industry is also a very useful method when it comes to sourcing candidates.


Hiring an executive search firm which has relationships with senior people across the industry allows for the client organisation to be sure they are getting the best talent out there.

Once a conversation with the candidate has occurred, and they have expressed interest, the executive search firm may send over the CV of the candidate to the client organisation if they believe the candidate is the right fit. If the client organisation agrees that the candidate is suitable, an interview is arranged. Once the client organisation has selected the candidate they want for the role, the executive recruitment firm will conduct thorough background checks to make sure that everything is as it should be.


Although the overall goal for both a recruiter and an executive recruiter is the same, to fill a role, the methods by which they are achieved are significantly different. Recruiters will often focus on finding suitable candidates for the role, typically by talking to people who apply for the role on a job post. Executive recruiters on the other hand will be more precise with their search, finding an exact match for the role.

While recruiters will typically seek people, who are actively looking for work, executive recruiters will target a passive pool of candidates who may not be seeking new work at present. Due to this, executive recruiters recruit from a much wider talent group, allowing the role to be filled by the very best talent out there. Another difference between recruiters and executive recruiters is that normal recruiters attempt to fill roles of all levels whereas executive recruiters only aim to fill senior and specialist roles.

Finally, recruiters usually work on a contingency basis. This means that the recruiters work on a no-win no-fee basis. If they do not find a candidate to fill the role, they will not earn any fee. Executive researchers however, often work on what is known as a retained basis. This means that the executive recruiter is paid an upfront fee by the client before the role has been filled, and that the executive recruiter works on a an exclusive basis, meaning that they are the only one who will be searching for the ideal candidate. There is often an upfront cost that is used to get the ball rolling, there may then be a second cost requested upon the delivery of a shortlist of candidates, although this is not very common. Then finally, a final fee paid once the chosen candidate has successfully entered employment with the candidate. In total, the overall fee typically makes up around 20%-30% of the candidates yearly salary. This method of recruitment is more typically used when recruiting for more senior positions where candidates are scarce.


There are many benefits that come with retaining an executive recruiter rather than working on a contingency basis. Firstly, retaining an executive recruiter ensure that the recruiter has their undivided attention to the needs of the client. Exclusivity can be a great motivator to ensure that the executive recruiter takes the time to carefully evaluate each potential candidate before sending them the client’s way. It allows for a greater deal of confidence that the executive recruiter will find the best clients that are available and not just suggest a number of candidates who might be qualified.


Working with an executive search firm has a number of benefits that are not available when working with a normal recruitment firm. Below are some of the best examples:

Industry knowledge – Executive recruiters have a great deal of knowledge with regards to the industry that they recruit in. More so than normal recruiters, a great deal of an executive recruiter’s time is spent forming connection with senior people throughout their specialised industry. Executive researchers know the market incredibly well and so will be able to offer advice to the client regarding areas such as how much they should expect to pay to fill the role. This allows for a ready formed wealth of knowledge that can be tapped into and ensures that the client receives the very best talent and advise available.

Search strategy – Executive search firms employ a thorough search specifically to find the best talent available. Executive search firms commonly employ researchers, people whose role is specially to source candidates, to draw up a list of people who are worth contacting. These people are then contacted, and a conversation is arranged between the search partner and the potential candidate to thoroughly understand their skills, experiences and qualifications to determine their suitability for the role. Often there will be several conversations between the search partner and the potential client before their information is then passed onto the client upon delivery of a shortlist. This whole process allows for a more thorough and careful search process than what is offered by a normal recruitment firm.

Hard to find talent – It is common for the best and most hard to find talent to remain unknown to the vast majority of recruiters. Due to their great deal of knowledge, connections, and experience within the industry, executive researchers are able to provide the client with only the very best talent around.

Complete process through to onboarding – Executive search firms and recruiters are often heavily involved in aspects of the recruitment and onboarding phase of the candidate who has secured the role. Executive recruiters are involved in the entire process, keeping lines of communication open between the client and any potential candidates. It is not uncommon for the executive recruiter to even play a role in contract negotiations between the client and the potential candidate. This is level of care is not something that is common in normal recruitment firms.

The best executive recruitment firms will go one step further and maintain communication with both the client and the successful candidate after they have accepted and started the role to make sure that there are no problems going forwards.

Trusted advisor – One of the most valuable assets available to clients who choose to work with an executive search firm is the great deal of knowledge, experience and connections that executive recruiters obtain. Often clients do not know the ins and outs of the role that they need to hire for and so it is up to the executive recruiter to inform them of what they need the ideal candidate and why. This can also involve the executive recruiter informing the client of how much they should expect to pay in salary for each candidate, determined by their level of experience and ability.


One of the most important things to be sure of when hiring an executive search firm is too be sure that they are of the highest quality. To be sure that the client is getting the best experience, there are several factors that they may wish to consider:

They specialise in your industry – The best executive search firms will contain executive recruiters who specialise in just one or two industries. This is often different to a normal recruiter who do not have anything specific that they are very knowledgeable about. Access to the best candidates is often only possible when working with an executive recruiter who has a great deal of knowledge and connections in the industry.

They have fantastic reviews and testimonials – One of the best ways to know if an executive search firm is the best fit can be to look through their past reviews and testimonials. The experiences that others have had with the firm is a good indication as to who likely the prospective client is to have, especially if these reviews have come from established and senior people within the same industry.

They are honest with you – Arguably the most important measure of an executive search firm’s worth is their ability to be honest and transparent with the client. While there is of course incentive for the firm to place a candidate to earn a fee, the best firms will often turn down work that they do not believe that they would be qualified to fill. The best executive search recruiters practice an open and honest approach with their clients and inform them of any reservations that they may have over the role itself, the salary, or even the prospective candidate.


While technology will no doubt keep advancing and provide valuable aid in the recruitment process, the basis of executive recruitment is likely to remain very similar. At its core, working with an executive recruitment firm offers a very personal experience with its main focus being establishing relationships between people. While roles in the industry evolve and change over time, executive search firms will be able to keep up to date with these evolving needs more so than the majority of normal recruitment firms. Due to the people-centred approach and close relationships with people across the industry, executive search firms are likely to remain an important aspect of the recruitment process for senior positions.

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