What is executive search and how does it differ from other recruitment models

What is executive search and how does it differ from other recruitment models
Matt Roach

What is executive search and how does it differ from other recruitment models

In recent years, executive search has become a popular option for employers looking to hire top talent. This is especially the case within the STEM sector.

As specialists within the Engineering and Technical markets, we work with a range of different businesses, and it’s abundantly clear why so many of them are choosing the executive search route. When you think about the well-documented skills shortage within this sector, combined with the demand for people who can really accelerate business growth, it makes sense to go for a highly specialised service.

That said, at times people can misunderstand what executive search is. Often, the term gets used interchangeably with ‘recruitment’. Both terms do relate to the art of hiring, but executive search is a very different model.

To provide some clarity, we’ve put together an overview of executive search, and the differences compared to traditional recruitment. This is also a way for you to analyse which solution could work for your business.

What is executive search?

Executive search is a highly specialised service, used when companies need talent that’s hard to find. Often this is for senior level roles, such as Vice Presidents, Directors or Chief Operating Officers. Alternatively, it may be because the role is in a niche sector where the candidate pool is small. Either way, these are high-impact and strategically important roles.

This is where executive search comes in.  Unlike other recruitment models (such as contingency recruitment), it involves a highly bespoke and targeted approach. Your executive search partners will have industry expertise and a proven track record of sourcing hard-to-find people. They’ll also have a strong network of contacts, and the ability to conduct searches in a highly confidential manner.

It’s more than just hiring as well. Executive search consultants offer a range of other bespoke talent related services. Examples include market mapping, employer branding, benefits analysis and Diversity & Inclusion advice. Many businesses go down this route because they need the extra expertise to build out their hiring strategy.

Is executive search the same as headhunting?

Headhunting is another word used interchangeably with executive search, but the two aren’t the same. Headhunting is actually one of the techniques used during a search.

Put simply, it’s when your executive search partner identifies and approaches a passive candidate – someone who’d be a good fit for the position, but isn't actively looking for a new role.

Headhunting plays a part in executive search, but there's a lot more to the process.

What about a retained search?

Retained search is when you have a consultant working on an exclusive basis to fill your role. Many companies like this exclusivity, knowing that they’ll have someone completely dedicated to their vacancy.

To secure this, an up-front fee (known as the ‘retainer’) is paid. There are then normally two additional payments – one when a shortlist of candidates has been provided (you can specify how many people need to be on the shortlist), and then a final payment when a candidate has been placed.

Some agencies may operate on a fixed-fee basis, where they receive a specified amount if they can fill the role within an agreed timeframe.

How would a retained executive search actually work?

When using a retained executive search agency, the service you’ll get will be bespoke. Think of them as partners rather than suppliers.

Once you’ve finalised the agreement and paid the retainer fee, the executive search consultant will have detailed conversations with you to find out what you want from the candidate.

This isn’t just about a simple job description. They will want a full picture of your needs, your Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and crucially, the type of person you want. This is important because if someone is being hired in a business-critical role, you’ll want them to fit in from a cultural point of view. An executive search consultant will sometimes use psychometric testing or other profiling tools, to see how aligned a candidate is with your values and how likely they are to stay for the long-term.

Because this is an exclusive agreement, they can dedicate maximum resources into filling the role, both in terms of their time and the tools they’ll use to analyse the market and reach out to quality candidates. Usually, these candidates won’t be actively seeking opportunities, so they wouldn’t register on your radar, or that of a traditional recruiter. Executive search teams on the other hand, will have the network and tools to find them, as well as the track record to engage them in a discussion.

Should I use retained executive search for my business?

This depends on the type of role you are hiring for. There are normally some key factors you should consider when deciding what type of agency to use for your hiring needs.

  • Candidate pool size
    If the type of talent you’re looking for is readily available, you should go to a traditional recruitment provider. If it’s hard to find, then executive search is a better option.

  • Sensitivity of recruitment
    In some cases, a candidate search needs to be confidential. This may be because you’ll need to hire someone from a competitor, or because the person in your role currently is leaving and you don’t want the news to leak. In this scenario, executive search is your best bet.
  • Geographical spread
    Are you looking for someone purely from the UK, or is the search more global? If it’s the latter, opt for executive search.

  • Market data
    If you’re not sure about the typical compensation and benefits packages in the market, a search team will be able to provide you with this data.

  • Time-critical
    Do you need to find someone urgently? As mentioned earlier, a retained executive search agreement means you have a dedicated consultant, so this may be a good option for you.

Ultimately, the quality of your hires will determine the growth of your business. That’s why choosing the right recruitment model and partner is so important. By analysing your business needs, you can make an informed decision and increase your chances of landing the right talent.

SEARCH by Carbon60

Our STEM focussed search offering combines the technical expertise of Carbon60, Lorien & SRG to offer a data-led approach that delivers much more than just a list of CVs.

  • SEARCH BY CARBON60 – offering senior technical hires within the product lifecycle.
  • SEARCH BY LORIEN – Digital, transformation & technical recruitment.
  • SEARCH BY SRG – Scientific, Technical & Operations, Commercial, Medical & Clinical Development, AI, Machine Learning and Bioinformatics.

Specialising in your niche we can help you to attract and retain the right talent with:

Find out more here: https://www.carbon60global.com/our-services/

Latest News, Events, and Insights

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay up to date with Carbon60

Subscribe to our Employer newsletter

Stay up to date with Carbon60