HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Executive Recruiter

In today’s competitive market, in-house recruiting teams are actively seeking passive talent at all levels, but what about executives? Does it make sense for your team to lean on the services of an executive recruiter or can your in-house recruiting team successfully hire a C-level executive?

What Is an Executive Recruiter?

Executive recruitment, also known as headhunting, is a specialized type of recruitment that focuses on engaging with and hiring executive-level positions. Executive recruiters typically work as a service to an organization and are not typically part of an organization’s internal recruiting team. Traditional recruitment is the process of opening and posting a job opening, waiting for applicants to actively apply and then reviewing and interviewing those active applicants. Since C-level executives are not actively applying to companies and since most companies don’t post that they are looking for a new C-suite member, a headhunting approach is required. In today’s competitive market, where traditional recruitment is not the only way organizations fill roles at all levels, the term “headhunting” is now more broadly used. Even though organizations currently feel pressed to headhunt even entry-level associates from other companies, headhunting is an executive recruitment term.

How Can an Executive Recruiter Help a Business?

Organizations don’t hire executives every day. In fact, organizations hire executives infrequently enough that, for most organizations, it does not make sense to invest their resources into a full-time recruiter with this type of niche skill set. Executive recruitment is not like riding a bike, where you learn how to do it and never forget. The reason why executive recruiters are successful is because they are consistently immersed in that world, buildinging their network with executives. Here are a few ways an executive recruiter can aid an organization in filling a C-suite position.
  • Specialized networks. Executive recruiters specialize in niche recruiting which means that they have highly developed and specialized networks and hiring pools. There are so many industries and business verticals that even executive recruiters now typically specialize in certain market segments like software, cybersecurity, robotics or supply chain management. The important thing to remember is that an executive recruiter spends all of their time recruiting in niche areas and has access to a network that traditional in-house recruiting teams likely do not have access to.
  • Time. In-house recruiting teams are not usually equipped with the kind of specialized people networks necessary to fill an executive role. Because of this, it may take a significantly greater amount of time for an in-house recruiting team to fill an executive role. If an organization budgets a year or more of time for the executive search, then they may possibly be able to fill an executive role on their own, but utilizing the services of an executive recruiter can be a major time-saving strategy.
  • Impact. A C-level executive is going to have the highest level of impact of any hire within an organization and so the stakes to do the job right or to hire the right person are at their highest. Organizations simply cannot afford to hire the wrong executive, since the repercussions of hiring the wrong executive will be far reaching. Because the stakes are so high and most internal recruiting teams don’t possess the active skillset to fill executive roles, the services of executive recruiters can be highly valuable to an organization.

Duties of an Executive Recruiter

Executive recruiters are tasked with finding the most talented and skilled people on the market to fill high-level leadership and executive roles for an organization. Since executive recruiters specialize in hiring high-level talent, they must have an exceptional level of precision and accuracy in all of their duties.


Executive recruiting is often called headhunting, but that does not mean executive recruiters work alone. In fact, executive recruiters closely collaborate with key stakeholders within a client organization, their personal networks, referrals and prospects. One of the essential duties of an executive recruiter is to be able to seamlessly collaborate with many different people.


Executive roles are highly specialized, incredibly nuanced and unique to each organization. Executive recruiters don’t fill an executive role within an organization by simply sending through experienced business executives. In order to successfully find the right executive fit for an organization, executive recruiters conduct an in-depth and intentional intake meeting with potential clients. In the intake meeting, the executive recruiter asks questions about the scope of the role being filled, the necessary requirements and skills, the culture of the organization and the types of backgrounds the client is interested in pulling from. The more time an executive recruiter takes in the intake meeting and the more detail they get about what type of person the organization is looking to fill, the more apt they will be in filling the role with the right individual.


The best way for an executive recruiter to get in contact with a desired executive—and sometimes the only way to get in contact with a desired executive—is through networking. Some executives simply won’t be able to be reached through emails or cold calls. Executive recruiting often requires creativity in order to successfully network. Networking is a skill utilized so often that the job cannot be done without networking.


Executive candidates rarely come to an executive recruiter. One of the primary duties of an executive recruiter is to search for the prospects that they want to talk to, which is one of the primary differences between traditional recruiting and executive recruiting. A traditional recruiter reviews incoming applications and determines the best from a list of applications that came directly to them. Traditional recruiters don’t have a choice in the applicants when working solely with inbound applications. On the other hand, executive recruiters intentionally and strategically search for the person they want to fill their role. Executive recruiters spend a lot of time searching for that right person.

Proactive Outreach

Once an executive recruiter finds a target list of qualified prospective leads, the next step is to make contact with them. Executive recruiters send emails, make cold calls, ask for introductions, connect on LinkedIn and make in-person introductions.


Through searching and proactive outreach, an executive recruiter will build a strong pipeline of qualified applicants. From there, the executive recruiter will interview the prospects in the pipeline and make a short list of the most qualified and best fit for the open C-level role. The interviewing duty of an executive recruiter helps in filling roles on time.

Offer Negotiation

Finding the right individual that your organization wants to hire is only part of the duties of an executive recruiter. The candidate will want to negotiate the best deal for themselves and negotiate an offer that makes sense for them to accept. One of the final duties of an executive recruiter is to successfully navigate the offer negotiation process to help the candidate accept and sign an offer.

Necessary Skills of an Executive Recruiter

The skills required to be an executive recruiter will be longer than any bulleted list, but here are a few of the essential skills an executive recruiter will utilize on a daily basis.

Communication skills

The candidates that an executive recruiter communicates with are at the highest levels within an organization and will communicate with a high level of professionalism. These types of candidates will expect the recruiter working with them to also communicate with a high level of professionalism. The teams and leaders an executive recruiter reports to with their client organization will often be those within their executive team and they will also expect a high level of professional communication from their executive recruiter.


Empathy is not a technical skill, and it is not necessarily related to professionalism or recruiting acumen, but empathy is a skill that sets good executive recruiters apart from world-class executive recruiters. Empathy is the ability to understand and internalize or understand the feelings of another person. Empathy adds the human touch to executive recruiting. Empathy is what takes executive recruiting from a cold and calculated business process to a humanized process focused on finding the best fit and opportunity for each individual and organization.


Since senior leaders and executives are not actively applying to new roles in high numbers, an executive recruiter has to be highly skilled in prospecting. Prospecting is the process of searching and finding quality prospects to fill a job opening. Most prospecting for an executive recruiter takes place online, using search engines, job platforms and Boolean searches. Other common places or avenues that executive recruiters use to prospect are events, personal connections and networking.

Proactive Outreach

Proactive outreach is often either an introduced message from a referral or a cold outreach. Executives receive a high number of cold outreaches from recruiters, sometimes daily. Executives also work in high-demand positions and don’t have time to sift through the myriad of personal outreach messages that jam up their inbox. In order to be successful in executive recruiting, executive recruiters are very good at personalizing and crafting messages that capture the attention of an executive and motivate them to take action.


Placing a senior leader or executive will not fall right in your lap. Executive recruiters exist because the roles they fill are not roles that candidates are actively applying for. Executive recruiting will not be as simple as posting a job opening online and then checking it for qualified applicants. Executive recruiting takes a lot of persistence in reaching out to the right kinds of people and being willing to make multiple communication touch points.


Recruiting is a function of human resources and, as such, recruiting in any position requires confidentiality. However, due to the nature of the roles that an executive recruiter fills, confidentiality is a fundamental skill. Senior leaders and executives have extensive networks, and in some cases the move they make will be covered by local or even national media; discretion is required.


Negotiation is an expected part of the process with executive recruiting. With high-level roles, the candidates will have specific asks and requirements that they will want to have filled in order to make a move from their current employers. Executive recruiters need to understand that negotiation will be an integral part of most of the roles that they fill. Understanding how to negotiate will be paramount to success in this career field.

How to Become an Executive Recruiter

Becoming an executive recruiter is not as linear of a path as becoming a physician or an attorney where there is a specific educational track. Most executive recruiters get into executive recruiting through different avenues. Here are a few common themes.

Step 1: Obtain the Common and Required Skills That Executive Recruiters Need

Executive recruiters need strong communication skills, but there is more than one way to obtain them. You don’t need to go to “executive recruiter school” to develop strong communication skills. Obtain the required and necessary skills that executive recruiters use wherever you currently are.

Step 2: Get Industry Experience

If you want to be an executive recruiter, your first job may be to become an entry-level recruiter in-house with an organization or with part of a staffing firm. Gaining recruiting experience will go a long way in helping you become an executive recruiter. Another way to gain industry experience that can help you land an executive recruiting role is to gain experience in the industry you want to be in as an executive recruiter. If you want to become an executive recruiter in software, then you can gain experience in the software industry. This industry experience will help you gain credibility and help you network.

Step 3: Network

Today’s job market is not as straightforward as job markets of the past. Previous processes in a traditional job market followed a very linear path where an applicant applied to an organization, the organization reviewed the applications and hired from that pool of incoming applications. Today’s job market is much more complex and nuanced. Networking is an integral part of today’s job market. If you spend your time networking, you may find that you land your first executive recruiter position without ever even submitting a single application to an executive recruiter opening.

Step 4: Join a Staffing Firm

Since most executive recruiters work for third-party agencies, looking at third-party agencies is a straightforward and direct path to becoming an executive recruiter. Many executive recruiters make a transition from traditional in-house recruiting to executive recruiting. That is a fine path to take in becoming an executive recruiter, but it also doesn’t hurt to go straight to an executive recruiting firm and look for a job exactly where you want to be.
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)
Benefits Manager
Campus Recruiter
Certified Payroll Professional (CPP)
Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)
Compensation Analyst
Employee Relations Manager
Global Mobility Specialist
Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)
HR Burnout
HR Business Partner
HR Careers
HR Certifications
HR Consulting
HR Department of One
HR for Owners
Hiring Manager
Hiring Team
Human Resources Assistant
Human Resources Generalist
In-House Recruiter
Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
Recruiting Coordinator
Recruiting Manager
Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
Talent Acquisition Partner
Technical Recruiter
Training & Development Manager
Vice President of Human Resources
Work-Life Coordinator
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