A deep dive into executive search

executive searchExecutive search, also known as headhunting, is a recruitment service that finds standout candidates for senior-level roles. This specialized area of recruitment requires unique expertise. As selected executives have crucial responsibilities within the company, like leading teams, making key business decisions, and gaining an edge over competitors, the cost of a bad hire is high. The role of an executive recruiter therefore involves managing client job openings, interviewing and carefully selecting the right candidates, and looking for exciting new talent. Depending on the client’s needs, an executive search can either be contingent or retained. 

Contingent search agreement 

 A contingent search agreement works on a fee-for-win basis, meaning the agency gets paid only after finding the right candidate for the job. This type of search is mostly used when multiple firms are hired to find the right candidate for a role. Working with multiple firms on a contingent search basis can provide you with access to a wide talent pool without a high level of commitment.

 Retained search agreement 

 In a retained search agreement, a client pays the executive recruiting agency upfront and throughout different stages of the recruitment process. Retained search is built on consistent collaboration, communication, and feedback from the client.

A retained search approach makes room for a strong partnership between the client and agency, and it turns the recruiter into an ambassador of the company’s employer brand. This relationship can prove invaluable when looking for high-profile talent, as the recruiters have an exceptional understanding of the brand’s culture, values, and requirements and may be better poised to find the perfect fit.

Main features of executive search 

In-depth, proactive approach 

Unlike a typical recruitment strategy, an executive recruitment strategy takes a highly-personalized approach to a very small volume of roles. The agency has a clear understanding of what the company needs and who they need to look for, making the search and selection process narrow and thorough.

An executive search involves a very proactive approach, as most of the time, the candidates are passive, (i.e., already employed and not actively looking for a job). These types of candidates need more than just an impressive remuneration in order to consider the role.

Exceptional client relationship 

 In executive recruitment, the agency is expected to have a strong relationship with the client. They need to have a deep understanding of the business, its values, mission, and culture, the role itself and its required skills, and the qualities that will make for a perfect fit. There is no room for error in headhunting, so it is imperative to ensure consistent collaboration and transparent communication.

Higher cost for higher stakes 

This search process is usually more expensive than traditional recruitment and most often involves an upfront fee. That said, it is well worth the investment, as the cost of a bad hire can be even more expensive.

Recruiters who are also industry experts 

Executive recruiters are highly skilled at matching the client brief and expectations to the right candidate. Not only are they exceptional recruiters, but they also happen to be experts in the fields they recruit for. They conduct thorough market research to understand the skills that make certain candidates excel in specific roles.

They also have substantial experience hiring for similar jobs and working with experts in the industry, making them excellent consultants. Effective executive recruiters are persuasive and skilled at establishing brand images that attract top talent.  


The executive recruitment process usually doesn’t involve spreading the word or building a large talent-pool. Instead, it’s often confidential, as the company is looking to replace a high-ranking official.

High-value candidates 

 In traditional recruitment, companies might be open to hiring for potential. When headhunting, however, recruiters are looking at candidates who are experts in their fields, possess demonstrated leadership and team-building skills, and can start producing value from day one. These candidates take on essential responsibilities that have a direct effect on the company’s growth and success.

Establishing a fool-proof executive recruitment strategy 

Employer branding 

Establishing a strong employer brand is a key component of any recruitment strategy. This becomes even more important in executive recruitment, as the candidates usually have strong preferences on the type of company they want to invest their time in. When these candidates consider a company, the decision is based on a lot more than just the salary. 

Here’s a guide to building a stellar employer brand

Collaborate and establish requirements 

The executive search should be well-defined and organized. Before beginning the search, it is important to know the exact profile required for the role. Executive recruiters should collaborate with clients to understand their company culture and expectations, verify that they have a strong understanding of the role and its required skillset, and make sure that everybody is on the same page throughout the recruitment process. 

Research and set benchmarks  

Before starting the search for the right candidate, it is important to research and assess similar roles. This will help you map the market, access top candidates, and set benchmarks for the right skillset and salary.

Talent search 

 Like in any recruitment strategy, it’s crucial to understand where to find and how to approach candidates. Remember that high-caliber candidates for executive-level positions may already hold similar roles and need convincing reasons to move on to anew opportunity. 

Network with other recruiters 

It is important for executive recruiters to network and establish strong relationships with other recruiters. This can help them stay in touch with industry developments, find potential candidates, and get new ideas on how to approach top talent. 

Shortlist candidates 

Before sending candidates to the hiring manager, executive recruiters must ensure that they are pre-screened for the desired skills, as well as clarify their strengths, weaknesses, and expected remuneration. Only the most qualified candidates should make it to the interview stage.

Build a structured interview 

When recruiting at the executive level, it’s common to interact with candidates who have years of experience in the industry. They likely have been through more than a few of interviews throughout their careers, so it’s important to provide them with a seamless interview experience. The various steps of the interview process should be clearly defined and accompanied by constant communication and feedback.

Negotiate salary 

An executive recruiter should collaborate with the client and establish a budget before starting the hiring process. They should have the skills to close the deal with the candidate while ensuring that both the client and candidate are satisfied with the offer.

Sealing the deal  

A successful executive search is often an intricate process that requires precise action. These efforts and investments are well worth it in the end, as finding the right person can elevate your business and put it in a much better position among its competitors.


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