Typical Executive Search Firm Fees : In-depth Report

two women sitting talking about how much executive search firms charge and singing a recruiting contract

content updated 9/22/2023

Few business decisions hold as much weight as selecting the right leaders for your organization. It’s an investment that can propel your company to new accomplishments or, conversely, hinder its progress. The search for exceptional leaders is both a strategic necessity and a substantial financial commitment whether you conduct the search with in-house recruiters or choose to partner with an expert search firm.

As a CEO or executive, understanding the intricacies of executive search firm fees is paramount. It’s not merely a matter of budgeting; it’s about making informed choices that align with your organizational goals and mitigate risk. Questions like “How much do executive recruiters charge?” or “What’s the real cost of securing the right leader?” deserve precise answers.

Executive search firms are specialists in high-level talent acquisition; think of them as your experts in the field. They possess a profound understanding of industries, functions, and regional nuances. Their mission? To find leaders who not only meet your technical requirements but also possess the unique qualities needed to drive your organization’s success.

An expert executive recruiter cuts through the noise to pinpoint the individuals who can truly make an outsized difference in your company. Their approach is tailored to your specific needs. They work diligently to connect the right leaders with the right opportunities, ensuring your organization’s success.

group of corporate employees meeting in a board room about what a typical executive recruiter costs and how much typical executive search firm fees are

How much do recruiters charge? 3 Types of Executive Recruiting Fees

When it comes to executive search firm fees, the choice you make can significantly impact the outcome of your search for top-tier leadership talent. We understand that investing in your next leadership hire is already daunting, so it’s natural to ask “How much to executive search firms charge, anyway?”.

To help you decide if an outside partner is worth it to you, I wanted to unpack the various fee structures used by executive search firms, with real statistics and more details to help you make an informed decision.

Real Stats: Retained search firm fees are often a percentage of the candidate’s first-year cash compensation, which includes the base salary and projected bonus. This percentage typically falls within the range of 25-33%.

1. Retained Executive Search Firm Fees – Medallion Partners’ Primary Fee Structure


  • Exclusive Focus: With an upfront retainer, retained firms dedicate themselves exclusively to your search, ensuring a profound understanding of your organization’s needs.
  • Access to Top Talent: They have a proven track record of attracting and engaging the best candidates due to their established reputation.
  • Tailored Approach: Retained firms work closely with you to design a customized search strategy that aligns with your organization’s unique requirements.
  • Long-Term Vision: Their focus is on quality over quantity, striving to identify candidates who will drive long-term success.


  • Higher Costs: The quality and exclusivity of a retained search come at a premium cost. If you’re not looking for a long-term, expert talent partner, this might not be the best option for you.

2. Contingency Executive Search Firm Fees – a typical recruiting fee

Real Stats: Contingency search firms operate on a “no placement, no fee” basis, with fees typically ranging from 20% to 30% of the candidate’s first-year salary. This model encourages fast placements, as firms only receive compensation upon a successful hire.


  • Cost Efficiency: You only pay when a candidate is hired, potentially making it a more budget-friendly option.
  • Wide Reach: Contingency firms often maintain extensive networks and actively seek candidates, casting a broad net.
  • Speed: The prospect of earning a fee motivates these firms to work swiftly.


  • Quantity Over Quality: Contingency firms may prioritize quantity over quality in their candidate selection process.
  • Limited Commitment: Their focus on quick placements may not align with your organization’s long-term talent strategy.
  • Potential Conflicts: Since contingency firms work on multiple searches simultaneously, they may present the same candidate to multiple clients, creating competition.

3. Flat Fee Search Firm

Real Stats: Flat fee search firms charge a fixed fee for their services, which can range from several thousand dollars for smaller searches to tens of thousands for larger engagements. This model often includes all expenses related to the search, from advertising to candidate assessments.


  • Budget Predictability: With a fixed fee structure, you know precisely what the search will cost.
  • Transparent Costs: Flat fees often reduce the risk of hidden expenses.
  • Alignment with Budgets: This model is attractive to budget-conscious organizations looking for predictability.


  • Incentive Concerns: Some argue that flat fees might not motivate a recruiter to go the extra mile in identifying top talent.
  • Candidate Quality: The focus may lean towards process efficiency rather than attracting high-caliber candidates.

These insights into executive search firm fee structures should aid you in selecting the most suitable option based on your organization’s unique needs, budget, and long-term goals.

Factors That Influence Executive Search Complexity and Recruiter Fees

Understanding the various factors that influence the cost of hiring an executive search firm and typical executive search firm fees is paramount in making informed decisions regarding your talent acquisition strategy. The executive recruiting partner you choose might not charge you more as a line item for this list, but there are often more time and resources required on their end.

Here are key elements that can impact the recruiter fee:

  • Industry – Different industries have varying levels of competitiveness regarding executive talent. Industries like technology and healthcare often experience higher demand for top-tier executives.
  • Geographic Location – Searches that encompass multiple regions or require international reach often entail higher fees due to the complexities of sourcing and engaging candidates across diverse locations.
  • Level of Position – The seniority of the executive role you seek can also impact fees. C-level positions, such as CEO, CFO, or CTO, typically command higher fees than mid-level management roles due to the specialized expertise required and, ultimately, their higher annual salary.
  • Search Complexity – Executive searches with specific or unique requirements, such as a need for niche technical skills or a deep understanding of a particular market segment. The complexity of the search, including the rarity of the skill set sought, can increase the effort and resources required.
  • Market Conditions – The prevailing economic conditions can influence executive search firm fees. During periods of economic growth and low unemployment, the demand for top executives can outstrip the supply, potentially leading to higher fees. Conversely, during economic downturns, fees may become more competitive.
  • Search Firm Reputation – The reputation and track record of the executive search firm you engage can impact fees. Firms with a strong history of successfully placing top executives may charge a premium for their services based on their proven ability to deliver results.
  • Scope of Services – The extent of services provided by the search firm can influence costs. Firms offering comprehensive services, including candidate assessments, background checks, and onboarding support, may charge higher fees than firms offering more limited services.

By carefully considering these factors, you can better estimate the costs of hiring an executive search firm and tailor your approach to meet your organization’s specific needs and budget.

a woman writing a contract at a desk that includes the typical executive search firm fee

Big 5 Executive Search Players vs. Boutique Executive Search Firms

When it comes to executive search firms, organizations often face the choice between engaging with big industry players like Korn Ferry and boutique firms specializing in niche markets. Each has its advantages and fee structures worth exploring.

Big players like Korn Ferry, Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, and Russell Reynolds are recognized for their global reach and extensive networks. Their fee structures often start at $100,000 and can exceed this amount, depending on the complexity and seniority of the search.

Boutique Executive Search Firms and Standard Recruiting Fees

Real Insight: Boutique executive search firms have gained popularity in recent years due to their personalized approach and often lower fees. It can be tempting to pine for an engagement with one of the Big Five executive search firms, but if your organization is not of considerable size and prestige, you may be priced out before you even begin. And, if you manage the finances, the experience itself can make you feel like one of a long list of contacts in the huge search firms. 

In contrast, boutique search firms, despite their smaller size, offer distinct advantages:

  • Concierge Client Service: Boutique firms focus on providing a tailored, concierge-like service to clients. They prioritize building deep relationships and understanding every client’s unique set of needs. The high-touch, elite-level service and consultation goes far beyond what you can access with a large search firm.
  • Better Results: Smaller size enables boutique firms to innovate and adapt quickly. They often produce better results by closely aligning with their client’s culture and requirements.
  • Flexible Engagement: Boutique firms are often more open to working on niche or specialized searches that larger firms may decline. They can also tailor their services to meet the unique needs of each client, ensuring a more targeted and effective search.
  • Fewer Off-Limits: Smaller firms typically have shorter “off-limits” lists, allowing them to access a wider pool of talent.

Choosing the Best Executive Level Recruiters

Choosing the right executive search firm is a crucial decision that can profoundly impact your organization’s leadership and future success. Here is a list of things to think about as you decide on who to partner with in your next executive search, and ask what their typical executive search firm fees are.

Guidance for Choosing an Executive Search Firm:

  • Define Your Needs and Budget: Clearly articulate your hiring needs, including the role’s responsibilities, qualifications, and your budget constraints. Understanding these parameters will help you narrow down your options and set realistic expectations.
  • Assess Industry Expertise: Consider the specific industry expertise required for your executive hire. Industry knowledge is often vital, as it enables the search firm to identify candidates who not only possess the necessary skills but also understand the unique challenges and dynamics of your sector.
  • Evaluate Track Record: Research the track record of potential search firms. Look for their success stories, client testimonials, and the types of roles they’ve successfully filled. A firm with a proven track record in your industry or at your desired executive level is a valuable asset.
  • Understand Their Process: Gain a comprehensive understanding of the search firm’s process. Inquire about their candidate sourcing strategies, assessment methodologies, and the estimated timeline for delivering candidates. A transparent and efficient process is vital for a successful search.
  • Request Client References: Ask for client references and contact a few of their previous clients to gather insights into their experiences. Client feedback can provide valuable perspectives on a search firm’s capabilities and performance.

Evaluating the Financial Feasibility to Hire Executive Recruiter:

When considering whether to hire an executive search firm, evaluate the financial feasibility by considering these five key points:

  • Cost vs. ROI: Calculate the potential return on investment (ROI) of making the right executive hire. Assess how this hire could positively impact your organization’s growth, innovation, and bottom line. Weigh the potential long-term benefits against the immediate cost of hiring a search firm.
  • In-House Resources: Analyze your in-house resources and expertise in executive search. Assess whether your internal team has the capacity and industry knowledge to conduct a successful executive search. Consider the opportunity cost of diverting internal resources from other critical tasks.
  • Time-to-Hire: Consider the urgency of your executive hire. Executive searches often require an extensive amount of time and effort. Evaluate whether your organization can afford the time it takes to identify, assess, and secure top-tier executive talent.
  • Risk Mitigation: Examine the risks associated with executive hiring. A failed executive hire can be costly in terms of both time and resources. Evaluate whether the expertise and industry insights provided by a search firm can help mitigate these risks.
  • Market Competition: Consider the competitiveness of your industry and the demand for top executive talent. In highly competitive markets, securing exceptional leaders can be challenging. Assess whether a search firm’s network and industry connections provide a strategic advantage in attracting top candidates.

Choosing the right executive search firm and assessing the financial viability of such a decision require careful consideration. It’s not just about the immediate cost but also the long-term value that exceptional leadership can bring to your organization.

Executive Recruitment Salary and Typical Executive Search Firm Fees

Executive recruitment salary packages can exhibit significant variations, contingent upon the industry, the specific executive role, and the geographical location. For instance, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the technology sector may command a notably higher salary than a similar position in the healthcare industry due to differences in demand and skillsets. Likewise, the average recruiting fee charged by executive search firms isn’t set in stone. It tends to fluctuate based on several factors such as the complexity of the search, the rarity of the desired skills, and the level of expertise required from the search firm. These dynamics emphasize the importance of a tailored approach to executive recruitment, taking into account industry benchmarks, market conditions, and the unique attributes of each executive role to ensure that both the organization and the executive candidate find the right fit.”

Executive Search Takeaways for Hiring Decision Makers

Key takeaways that every CEO and executive should keep in mind:

1. Value vs. Cost: When it comes to securing top-tier leadership, focus on value rather than mere cost. Executive search is an investment in your organization’s future, one that can propel your company to new heights when executed with precision.

2. Expertise Matters: Recognize the critical role of expertise in executive search. The ability to navigate the complex terrain of executive recruitment, understand industry nuances, and identify exceptional leaders is a distinct advantage that search firms bring to the table.

3. Tailored Solutions: Consider your organization’s unique needs. Whether you’re charting a new course or fine-tuning an existing strategy, your executive search approach should align with your goals, resources, and timeline.

4. Risk Mitigation: Understand the risks associated with executive hiring and the potential consequences of a misstep. A well-chosen search firm can act as a stabilizing force in these turbulent waters, helping you mitigate risks and find the right leader.

5. The Power of Partnerships: Finally, remember that in the realm of executive search, it’s not just a transaction; it’s a partnership. The relationship you build with your search firm can influence the caliber of candidates you attract, the ease and speed of the talent acquisition process, and the ultimate success of your leadership team.

The right leader can transform your organization, guiding the whole team toward a future filled with growth and innovation. The path may be challenging, but with the right knowledge and partner, you’re aimed toward success. Ultimately, it’s not just about the executive recruiter fees you pay but the value you gain.

How Medallion Partners Makes Your Executive Search Process Simple

With us, hiring uncertainty is a thing of the past. 

Over 98 percent of our placed candidates remain in their roles after two years, a testament to our deep understanding of your needs and tenacity to find the best person to do the job.

We take the reins of the entire executive search process, freeing your team to focus on core responsibilities. 

Our world-class search, selection, evaluation, and onboarding process ensures a seamless, transformative experience.

Your next executive isn’t just a hire; they’re your best strategic asset.

And, our results speak volumes – CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, and more, all handpicked to lead and innovate.

Our process is swift, but we never compromise on quality. Your future leaders, delivered precisely when you need them.


Speak with an expert and get clear on your 2024 organizational strategy.

About Michael Morgan

ae18397d4200b6543d24926998dce3a8?s=90&d=mm&r=g Typical Executive Search Firm Fees : In-depth ReportMichael Morgan is the Vice President & Managing Director at Medallion Partners. He's responsible for company wide day-to-day delivery of business results, team leadership, cultivating trusted partnerships with clients, and client-specific strategic analysis. Michael ultimately works to bring change to people's careers, propel companies, and impact industries.

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