How Much Should You Pay an Executive Recruiter?

How Much Should You Pay an Executive Recruiter?

How Much Should You Pay an Executive Recruiter?

As an organizational leader, you are responsible for ensuring you receive a fair deal when partnering with external recruiters. But getting a clear idea of how much you should expect to pay for an executive recruiter can be challenging. 

In this blog, we’ll cover the essential fundamentals regarding hiring an executive recruiter, like: 

  • Explaining the role executive recruiters fill.
  • Detailing the key differences between typical recruiters and executive recruiters.
  • Breaking down how executive recruiter payments are structured.
  • Outlining how much you should expect to pay for an effective and efficient executive search partner. 

A working knowledge of the four topics above can help your organization streamline the executive recruitment process while avoiding wasting countless hours and thousands of dollars on an ineffective recruitment partner. 

What Does An Executive Recruiter Do?

Executive recruiters fill a niche yet vital role in businesses across industries. 

Like conventional recruiters, executive recruiters’ primary responsibilities center around identifying, evaluating, and securing qualified candidates for vacancies in their clients’ organizations. But unlike most recruiters, executive recruiters mostly focus on hard-to-fill executive and specialist roles.

Executive recruiters’ unique position in the talent market empowers them to take complete ownership over one of the most high-stakes and challenging aspects of managing a business – strategically and efficiently expanding the executive team.

The best executive recruiters enjoy access to a global network of exciting, diverse, and innovative executives, allowing their partner organizations to enhance their operations, improve their corporate culture, and reach new performance, productivity, and profitability levels.

What Is the Difference Between a Recruiter and an Executive Recruiter?

While both groups play crucial roles in the success of businesses across industries, there are a few key differences between typical recruiters and executive recruiters

Normal Recruiters

Conventional recruiters typically specialize in filling entry, intermediate, and occasionally mid-management level roles. They often rely on less specialized but highly effective tools, like job boards, social media platforms, and networks of candidates clustered by geography, industry, or experience level. 

While they may be skilled at generating large amounts of activity on lower-level vacancies, conventional recruiters often lack the access, experience, and tools necessary to reliably access the executive talent market to make placements at the highest corporate levels. 

Executive Recruiters

Executive recruiters are C-suite talent acquisition specialists. Unlike their generalist colleagues, executive recruiters benefit from numerous specialized strategies, tools, and techniques that empower them to identify, engage, and evaluate executives performing at the highest levels worldwide.

Executive recruiters’ unique expertise, experience, and positioning allow them to generate one-in-a-million placements that elevate, enhance, and evolve their client’s corporate culture, profits, and potential. 

Are Executive Headhunters the Same as Executive Recruiters?

Many organizations have difficulty deciding whether to work with an executive “headhunter” or an executive “recruiter.” But the truth is, businesses that invest in high-quality executive talent acquisition partners don’t have to choose one or the other – they get to benefit from both.

The distinction between executive headhunters and executive recruiters primarily developed from a division in the executive recruiting industry regarding active and passive candidates. 

Executive Recruiters and Active Candidates

Active candidates are the candidates everyone is familiar with. They’re professionals ready for a new challenge. They have begun using job boards, professional social media platforms, and their network to signal their interest in a new opportunity. These candidates are easy to access and open to discussing new roles, but their high visibility can bring stiff competition. 

Many executive recruiting firms exclusively target active candidates, banking on the interest, enthusiasm, and accessibility of the active candidate pool to support quick and efficient placements at their clients’ organizations. However, for every recruiter that dialed in on active candidates, an executive headhunter was chasing after passive candidates for the same vacancy. 

Executive Headhunters and Passive Candidates

Executive headhunters and search firms that target passive candidates built their businesses on the idea that the active candidate talent pool doesn’t typically represent the best an industry or role has to offer. 

More often than not, the highest-value candidates – the ones with the most advanced skills, niche experience, and exceptional leadership abilities – are too busy leading the charge in their current positions to focus on exploring alternative employment. 

Executive headhunters see passive candidates’ lack of presence in the talent market as an ideal opportunity to convert high-performing executives into their client’s newest C-suite member or on-staff specialist. 

Executive headhunters use a variety of data-driven, sophisticated tactics to access, engage, and sign world-class executives operating at the uppermost echelons of their fields. 

While their strategies often take a bit more time than executive recruiters that rely on active candidates, the best executive headhunters can be trusted to provide transformational candidates that exceed their clients’ expectations regarding performance, experience, and skill.

Most executive headhunters work on a contingency basis and charge clients between 20-35% for successful placements. Like executive recruiters, headhunters’ fees are always charged to the organization seeking a new team member.

Modern Executive Search Firms: The Best of Both Worlds

Fortunately, innovators in the executive search industry have made great strides to solve this schism, implementing the best practices, strategies, tactics, and techniques from each camp within their own agencies. 

Executive search firms like Medallion Partners leverage data-driven executive search processes that allow our team to access talented executives worldwide – in both the active and passive talent market. 

Ensuring our clients have unparalleled access to both markets positions our search specialists to generate placements that consistently exceed expectations and impact our client’s bottom lines. It also empowers our firm to continue developing, maintaining and expanding our network of highly motivated, successful, and innovative executives.

What Is An Average Executive Recruiter Salary?

Wondering what your executive recruiter is bringing home each year? You aren’t alone. Executive recruitment has maintained an air of mystery in the larger business landscape, making people curious about the industry’s inner workings. 

Let’s dive into the numbers with a bit of help from stats from Glassdoor,, and Comparably!

Executive Recruiter Earnings: Fast Facts

  • Most executive recruiters earn between $80-125,000 per year.
  • The bottom 25% of earners in executive recruitment make between $55-75,000 per year.
  • Median executive recruiter salaries fall between $95-105,000per year.
  • The top 25% of earners in executive recruitment make $115-150,000 a year, while the most prominent players earn as much as $250,000+.

Executive recruiters often receive base salaries commensurate with their experience and performance history, plus generous bonuses and perks for successful placements.

How Do You Pay An Executive Recruiter?

So, how are executive search firms compensated? It’s probably less complicated than you think!

Much like their generalist counterparts, executive recruiters base their invoices on the vacancy’s first-year salary or compensation package. 

Total fees vary between firms and search specialists, but on average, organizations should expect to spend 25-35% of their executive vacancy’s annual salary to retain a high-value executive search partner. 

For example, let’s say you’re looking for a new CTO and plan on offering them roughly $250k/year. Assuming a standard executive recruitment fee, your projected executive search costs fall between $60,000 and $90,000. 

Note: Organizations must clarify whether potential search partners calculate fees using the vacancy’s first-year salary vs. first-year compensation. Many executive recruiters build their costs using your complete compensation package, including bonuses, relocation perks, benefits, and more. Failing to pursue this critical differentiator between firms can significantly increase hiring costs if businesses aren’t careful. Medallion Partners stands out in the market, because we only charge clients based on the placed candidate’s first year salary alone.

Contingency vs. Retainer Executive Recruiters

While average executive search costs are more or less established, payment pacing varies depending on which style of executive search firm you elect to work with – contingency or retained. 

Contingency executive search firms only require payment after placing candidates in your vacancy. However, their non-exclusive contracts mean organizations risk losing out on their favorite candidates to their search partner’s other clients.

Retained executive search firms partner with organizations to launch exclusive searches for critical vacancies. Retained search firms typically charge their clients in periodic installments that may be related to performance or progress milestones, or an agreed-upon timeline. 

How Medallion Partners Makes The Executive Search Process Simple

Medallion Partners provides our clients with peace of mind and top-tier results using our strategic, data-driven executive search process that has been tested, refined, and improved for over 15 years. There is a reason over 98 percent of the candidates we place are still in their roles after two years.

We take complete ownership of the executive search process, allowing your team to focus on their primary responsibilities, while we carry out our world-class search, selection, evaluation, and onboarding process. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your company find the perfect candidate.