What is The Difference Between Recruitment and Executive Search?

What is The Difference Between Recruitment and Executive Search?

What is The Difference Between Recruitment and Executive Search?

At first glance, “recruitment” and “executive search” sound like synonyms, but they aren’t. 

So, how do these two terms differ?

What is Recruitment?

Miriam Webster defines recruitment as “the action or process of recruiting.” So, in other words, it’s the action of seeking out new staff for your organization. 

Recruitment includes everything you associate with talent acquisition — job ads, candidate interviews, the extension of offers, etc.

What is Executive Search?

Executive search is the process of meticulously placing the ideal candidate for a high-level role — usually, that’s someone who will succeed in the role long-term. 

Executive search is a highly specialized type of recruitment used to fill high-level leadership and niche specialist roles. It’s carried out by executive recruiters, also called “executive headhunters” or “executive search consultants.”

The demand for executive search is strong. As seen in the graph below, 77% of organizations are currently experiencing a leadership gap and need qualified candidates to fill these positions.

What is Executive Search Vs. Headhunting?

“Executive search” and “recruitment” aren’t synonyms, but “executive search” and “headhunting” are. “Headhunting” is the more colloquial term for executive search. 

Now that we have defined recruitment and executive search, let’s examine six differences between typical recruitment and executive search and learn when these methods should be used.

#1. Position Type

Recruiters typically fill junior and mid-level positions. 

Executive recruiters typically fill high-level positions where the stakes of hiring the wrong person for the job are very high. If your organization needed a new CEO, CFO, CMO, or CIO, you’d turn to an executive recruiter. 

In addition to filling executive vacancies, executive search firms also help companies fill highly specialized roles and make confidential hires. 

Some jobs require someone with a niche background and unusual skills that candidates can’t learn on the job. Other jobs require discretion and confidentiality in the recruiting process.

Organizations recruiting for these roles often turn to executive recruiters and executive search firms.

Read: “How To Hire an Executive Search Firm — A Checklist.” 

#2. Search Methodology

Recruiters are looking for candidates who are a good fit for the role. That means:

  • The candidate’s desired salary is within budget.
  • The candidate possesses experience and skills that indicate they could do the job. 
  • The candidate aligns with team expectations and values. 
  • The candidate wants the job.

Standards are higher for the executive search process than for a standard recruitment process. Executive recruiters are looking for candidates with a lot of experience, high-level skills, and values and attitudes that align with the organization. Executive recruiters also look for candidates that intend to progress in the role or stay at the company for at least three years. 

Read: “The Pyramid of Talent.”

#3. Recruitment Business Model

Recruitment firms typically make money for each candidate they place within an organization. Naturally, they focus on quickly placing as many candidates as possible.

Executive recruitment firms (especially big four executive search firms) also make money for each successful placement, but their fee is higher. This allows them to spend more time on each job to ensure they find the perfect candidate for the role.

It is not uncommon for an executive search agency to also charge a retainer or percentage-fee based on candidate outcomes. We will delve more into this type of structure in later articles. 

#4. Day-To-Day Activities

On a day-to-day basis, recruiters sift through dozens of applications, post job ads, arrange interviews, meet with candidates virtually and in person, and make hiring recommendations. It’s not unusual to see recruiters with jam-packed schedules.

What does a day in the life of an executive recruiter look like?

Executive recruiters complete many of the same tasks as recruiters but with more of a focus on quality and outcomes over quantity. They:

  • Research candidates more thoroughly.
  • Use discretion to approach passive candidates, (already employed candidates), who are a good fit for the role.
  • Ask specialized executive recruitment interview questions.
  • Speak with fewer qualified candidates for a longer period.
  • Research the role they are hiring for very carefully.
  • Make decisions slowly and meticulously.
  • Use executive recruiting tools like Loxo, Clockwork Recruiting, TrackerRMS, and Crelate Talent.
  • Hire for the job, not the job description.

#5. Industry

Recruiters tend to focus on filling roles in a specific industry by interviewing people in that industry network.

Executive recruiters and executive search agencies, on the other hand, look for candidates across industries. They are willing to make more of a leap to find the perfect candidate for a role, because they know things like culture and personality fit are extremely important. 

#6. The Employment Status of Candidates

Recruiters typically interview candidates who are actively searching for a new job  (“active candidates”). Sometimes they are unemployed, and other times they are employed but intend to resign once they have signed a final offer. 

Executive candidates aren’t always active job seekers. In fact, 90%+ of Medallion Partners’ placements are not looking for a job when they are recruited (“passive candidates”). 

So, top executive recruiters chase candidates who are on and off the market. 

Final Thoughts: Recruitment Vs. Executive Search

Ultimately, the differences between recruitment and executive search boil down to this:

  • The focus of recruitment is placing the right candidate right now. 
  • The focus of executive search is placing the right candidate for the next three or more years. 

Want to conduct your own executive search but don’t know where to start? 

Medallion Partners can help. We use a customized ten-step process to deliver top talent. 

Reach out today, and find out what Medallion Partners can do for you.