What Is Executive Search and How Can It Help Your Company?
If you’ve been responsible for filling a new executive opening, you know all too well how time-intensive, expensive, and stressful the endeavor is.
Finding suitable candidates for critical executive roles or niche specialist roles can be difficult for in-house HR staff. Staffing firms that primarily handle entry-level or intermediate placements rarely fare better.
The challenge of filling complex roles leads many companies to begin exploring the idea of using an executive search firm to improve access to high-value candidates, reduce the time to fill, and onboard an executive leader with the ideal skill set, performance experience, and cultural fit.
Executive search firms understand that hiring an executive isn’t just an HR project or a problem solved with a cookie-cutter recruiting approach. Instead, it’s an opportunity to elevate performance, drive productivity, and support long-term growth by finding and placing the perfect candidate.
What Are Executive Search Firms?
Executive search firms are elite talent acquisition specialists.
They boast global networks of innovative and impactful executives and leverage their unique access to small pools of talent to generate game-changing placements in critical roles across industries.
Unlike your average staffing firm, executive search firms have the expertise, experience, and discretion necessary to take advantage of passive candidates (candidates who are currently happily employed.) Access to passive candidates is a crucial distinction between executive search firms and standard recruiters. The best executive consulting firms understand that the best executives are already employed.
Executive search firms also use advanced evaluation tools, custom technology, data-driven screening strategies, and painstaking selection processes that position them to identify executives that exceed client expectations.
What’s the Difference Between Executive Search and Recruiting Firms?
Companies seeking to fill an executive position or a niche hard-to-fill role should understand the difference between executive search and general recruitment. In general, executive consulting firms will use a custom approach to generate a targeted pool of passive candidates, then guide them through the interview process. Both in-house recruiters and staffing agencies focus on generating large amounts of candidates through active applications to fill a higher volume of openings.
While in-house HR departments and external staffing agencies are are the right choice for the job for most instances, they will lack:
- Executive Access
- Niche Networks
- Refined recruitment strategies
- Access to passive candidates
- Detailed individualization
In contrast, executive search consulting firms devote massive amounts of time and resources toward:
- Developing, growing, and nurturing their global networks of innovative and impactful executives.
- Refining their search and selection processes to generate consistently successful executive placements.
- Analyzing the executive talent market to ensure their clients are well-positioned to lure in the perfect candidate.
- Spending time reaching out to passive candidates who are good fits for the role.
- Performing advanced assessments to ensure a culture and leadership fit.
- Focused improvement on DEI by reaching out to diverse rosters of candidates.
- Offering post placement resources to help candidates acclimate the new job, new city, etc.
Three Major Differences Between Executive Search and Recruiting
Let’s look at a few important differences between executive search and in-house and general recruiting efforts.
As you know, businesses in the same industry often have wildly different purposes. The same is true in talent acquisition, especially when comparing executive search and general recruitment.
In-house recruiting’s mission is to fill vacant roles as quickly and affordably as possible to maintain smooth business operations at the entry, intermediate, and sometimes mid-management levels.
While in-house recruiting still emphasizes finding excellent candidates, recruiters deal with high-volume workloads and a pressing need to minimize time-to-fill to support steady productivity and growth. This typically leads to a recruiting ethos that values efficiency, speed, and quantity.
Types of Roles Commonly Filled Through In-House Recruiting
- Entry Level
- Associate Level Roles
- Junior Managers and Supervisors
- High volume roles from certain fields (i.e. manufacturing, warehousing, etc.)
Executive search’s mission is to identify, assess, interview, and place world-class professionals in business-critical roles. These include both top-level leaders and niche, hard-to-find specialists.
Executive search revolves around the fundamental idea that the impact executives and niche specialists have on the growth, success, and longevity of companies calls for greater care, closer attention, and the deployment of hard-earned expertise while acquiring them.
Executive search teams focus on generating a targeted candidate pool of high-quality professionals that represent ideal matches for high-stakes roles.
Types of Roles Commonly Filled Through Executive Search
- C-Suites and Top Executives
- Confidential or Sensitive Roles
- Managers Leading Priority Initiatives
- Niche expertise (i.e. specialized researchers)
The methodologies employed during by executive recruiters also diverge from common recruiting practices.
These differences can be traced back to the access, experience, and success of the candidates that executive recruiting firms pursue. Their professional standing requires an entirely different approach and experience compared to filling standard level roles.
In-house recruiters employ a wide array of commonly-known methods, strategies, and tools to build candidate pipelines that allow them to provide quick solutions to fill open vacancies.
Most in-house recruiters operate in a limited industry range and rely on job boards posted on platforms like Indeed, LinkedIn, and internal sites to find candidates actively seeking employment opportunities.
Their methodologies hinge around “wide net” strategies that allow them to gather large quantities of interested candidates.
On the other hand, executive search firms employ methods and strategies that take advantage of their wide professional networks and provide the level of discretion needed to approach currently employed industry leaders.
Executive search methodologies also differ from recruiting when it comes to the type of candidates targeted. The best executive recruiting firms’ reach extends well beyond the active candidates hunting for a new role they can land to the true top performers- passive candidates.
Passive candidates are happily employed high performing employees who are not actively seeking new work opportunities.
While recruiting from passive candidate pools may sound like a disadvantage at first, it actually allows executive recruiting specialists to identify and acquire the absolute best possible talent for your company – not the best possible talent currently available.
Recruiters and executive search firms also differ when it comes to the extent of their reach and candidate access.
If your company’s vacant executive position requires niche knowledge, specialized experience, or a rare background, you’ll likely struggle to find the perfect candidate using conventional methods.
Most companies acquire talent from a limited range of candidates. This is because their professional and personal reach is often limited to those similar to them. This results in lower diversity, narrow industry scope, and limited geographic reach.
Executive search teams aren’t limited to by talent pools and have the pull to convince elite executives with diverse backgrounds around the world to take on new challenges.
Executive search professionals prioritize securing, maintaining, and growing their access to high-level networking and professional groups around the world, which allows them to engage with top-level executives and specialists around the world.
Contingency vs. Retainer Executive Search Firms
The two most popular business models in the executive search industry are contingency and retainer.
Contingency firms operate like most independent, outsourced service providers but only earn their cut after their candidates are placed. Retained executive search firms are paid on a set schedule and integrate into their clients’ businesses to gain an insider’s perspective.
Let’s break down the differences between contingency and retained executive search firms a bit further.
Contingency Recruiting Agreements
Contingency executive search firms are structured similarly to commission-only sales firms. These companies connect with clients, seek out new talent, and fill vacancies before being paid their fee, which typically falls between 20-30% of the role’s first-year salary.
While the low upfront risk may make contingency executive recruiting firms attractive at first glance, it also forces your executive search partner to prioritize casting wide nets, creating quick options of “good enough” candidates, and little patience for clients’ decision making process.
Most contingency executive search agreements are also non-exclusive, meaning contingency executive recruiting firms are often competing against one another and juggling larger client loads than retained executive talent specialists. This means that if you are working with a contingency firm, the candidate you are being presented with could be presented to other clients at the same time.
Working with a contingency executive search firm also carries the risk of being dropped from their search efforts if your role is too niche, challenging, or time-consuming to fill. After all, the name of the game for contingency firms is a large volume of quick wins. If your role can’t be filled fast enough to be profitable, they will move on to other clients.
Executive Search Retainer Agreements
Retained executive search firms are highly sought after due to the long-term partnerships and impacts they offer. Retained search firms typically use a three-part payment structure that totals between 25-35% of a filled role’s first-year compensation.
The retained executive search model is similar to management or strategy consultancies. Executive recruiting firms become an extension of your company and dive deeply into your business’s needs, mission, ethos, and culture to gather the insights needed to reliably deliver the best talent for your vacant role.
While it’s true they can generate a lower volume of candidates compared to contingency firms, retained executive search firms often invest more time, resources, technology, and discernment in the search, screening, and selection processes. This distinction leads to a carefully curated short list of candidates that represent ideal performance and cultural fits, rather than large lists of easily available job seekers.
What Is The Executive Search Process?
The executive search process shouldn’t look like your typical recruitment roadmap.
Instead, companies should seek out executive talent recruiters with a clearly defined and data-backed process that has a proven track record of efficiently placing top executives who succeed long after they are hired. Let’s look at the steps of Medallion Partners’ executive search process.
Medallion Partners’ Four-Part Executive Search Process
1) Create a Bespoke Executive Search Strategy.
Every executive placement presents a unique array of obstacles and challenges. We understand this and create executive search strategies that are customized for each of our clients. We analyze a client’s organizational structure, company culture, mission, vision, and long-term performance goals to ensure our search and selection process is in perfect alignment.
Medallion Partners’ priorities during this stage include:
- Gaining insight into your organizational structure.
- Identifying critical business needs.
- Understanding your DEI goals and overall company culture.
- Defining the total reward for filling your vacancy.
- Outlining time-to-hire.
- Connecting with decision-makers.
- Creating an interview schedule.
2) Build a Roster of World-Class Talent
Once we have created your strategy, we’ll officially begin our search!
We’ll leverage our access to the global executive talent market to identify ideal pools of talent that represent strategic fits for your company’s 30-day, six-month, two-year, and ten-year goals.
Our executive search process focuses on passive candidates, or individuals that are ideal cultural, leadership, and performance fits but aren’t currently looking for a new position. This may sound counterintuitive, but we believe you deserve the best person for the job – not the best person currently looking in the job market.
3)Refine Your Candidate Pool
After we’ve curated a pool of game-changing candidates, we’ll present their profiles to you for review.
Our presentation is both a qualitative and quantitative comparison of our top candidates that includes live market data, leadership and cultural fit evaluations, performance data, and background information that has been painstakingly vetted.
We’ll provide you with a comprehensive report that includes every pertinent detail, so you can review your options extensively. At this stage in the search process, our specialists will be available to answer any questions you or your team may have and to provide objective guidance in narrowing your selections.
After you’ve reviewed our detailed reports, we’ll identify your short list of top candidates and prepare an in-house interview schedule. We’ll even work with your selected candidates to help them in preparing for interviews and travel.
4) Sign, Support, and Succeed
At each stage of interviews we’ll connect to share feedback and continue to narrow the field. Once you’ve chosen a finalist, our team will connect with them to win a commitment, get their employment contract signed, and begin assisting them in their transition to their new role.
Our basic executive search service provides resignation assistance, a short term success plan, and onboarding support for our placements that empowers them to bring their best selves into the workplace. And for organizations that want to invest in long-term success and genuine integration, we offer comprehensive, 365-day executive wellness services that help your new executive integrate with their new colleagues, company, and community. This service is a unique part of our process that has directly contributed to over 98% of our candidates remaining in their roles after two years.
World-class executive search experiences aren’t over once the offer is signed. Medallion Partners quickly pivots to laying the foundations for future success with:
- Customized onboarding support.
- Company culture assimilation strategies.
- Bespoke relocation and transition services that empower your new executive to hit the ground running and integrate with your company for the long haul.
Three Signs of an Elite Executive Search Process
It can be hard to separate top-performing executive search firms. Be sure to ask about the search process during your consultation and listen for these three signs of an exceptional process.
1) Strategic, Data-Backed Evaluation Processes
Gut feelings and subjectivity are the enemies of effective executive talent acquisition.
We put each of our candidates through our proprietary evaluation matrix that objectively weighs data from their professional backgrounds, personality assessments, skills tests, professional recommendations, and more against 16 wide-ranging criteria in three categories: Execution Ability, Leadership, and Cultural Fit.
Our Medallion Matrix provides an invaluable source of objectivity and quantifiable data points that empower our team to make executive placements with 98% success rates.
2) Executive Market Expertise
The best executive search firms have hard-earned experience and actionable insights into their market.
These firms combine hands-on executive experience with deep market research and analysis to generate the most comprehensive understanding of the global talent market possible. Our executive search specialists enjoyed successful careers as executives in a wide variety of industries before joining Medallion Partners, allowing us to:
- Leverage professional relationships and networks to find candidates.
- Evaluate candidates’ personal presence, poise, and communication style.
- Understand the performance and cultural needs of our clients’ companies at an executive level.
- Collaborate with our partners to ensure their total reward offer is well-researched, competitive, and attractive to top-tier candidates.
- Accurately qualify performance potential, experience, credentials, and skill sets.
- Approach world-class candidates with the sophistication and customization required to convince them to consider a new opportunity.
3) Access to a Global Network of Diverse Talent
A candidate network with a narrow industry range and low candidate diversity is a red flag in the executive recruiting industry.
Ensuring opportunity to talented, innovative, and diverse executives around the globe enhances the communities our clients serve, strengthens client culture, and produces tangible bottom line results.
A diverse network is particularly important in the search for executive talent. Finding the best talent hinges on access to executives of every gender, nationality, race, and religion. Strong diverse placement retention rates signal that an executive search firm has:
- A genuine commitment to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusivity at the executive level.
- A well-rounded network of professionals of every demographic and background.
- Insightful and effective company culture evaluations.
- Advanced and accurate candidate assessments.
- Exceptional placement success support.
Take Control of Your Executive Search Process with Medallion Partners
Medallion Partners has extensive experience with finding the perfect high-level candidates for even the most difficult-to-fill positions. In fact, 98% of our placements continue to excel with our clients two years post hire. If you are ready to bring in your next high-performing senior executive, contact us today. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the executive search consulting process.