HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Executive Search Firm
“Help! Our company needs to hire a C-level executive and our recruiters aren’t bringing in the talent!” I have heard these words more times than I can count. Is an executive search firm the answer for your organization? Let’s find out!

What Is an Executive Search Firm?

Executive search firms are staffing organizations that specialize in executive placements.

What Does an Executive Search Firm Do?

Depending on the agency and specialty, the positions these firms fill can range from directors to C-level, or they may maintain a narrow scope in the C-level arena. Some executive search firms even have industry specialties such as financial, IT, biotech and medical. Each agency is different, but their role is the same: successfully find the right executive for your organization.

Getting to Know Your Organization and Team

The first step to any successful executive search is for the recruiters at the firm to get to know your company and team. This process should be very detailed. It should cover understanding your company mission and how the assigned role fits into this mission to in-depth knowledge about the team with whom the hire will work and lead. This is a crucial step and it is here that you can often tell if a firm is going to be successful. Recruiters who are at the top of their game know it is not just the hiring manager’s perception and opinion that matter. They need input from all levels and position types throughout the company to successfully place an executive. Why? They need to know if the candidates they interview have the know-how and desire to help with every aspect of the position to alleviate existing and future pain points. This get-to-know-you process need not be long, but it must be thorough. A recruiter who embraces this process is far more likely to land you a spectacular new leader!

The Hunt

Nobody wants a search firm that sits back and waits for talent to come to them. It is important to find a team that understands the hunt. This is my favorite part of recruiting. I live for the hunt. I want to dig in, get creative and find the passive talent that will launch the role into a new wave of success! This is the passion you want your executive search firm to exhibit. They need to be excited to find you the right talent, not just top talent. Active sourcing can take many forms, so it is not necessary that the firm be experts in every search method, but the active approach is vital to the mission.

Candidate Experience

This is a big one that many firms miss. Candidate experience is important and can be the difference between an accepted and rejected offer. Candidate experience can be the difference between a candidate that stays and a candidate that never quits looking. Candidate experience is paramount. The crucial elements of candidate experience are:
  • Showing excitement for the candidate
  • Prioritizing the candidate
  • Prompt, inclusive and accurate communication
  • Upfront, clear setting of expectations
  • A concise and reasonable interview process
  • Interview feedback
  • Advocacy (for accommodations, negotiations, etc.)
  • Honesty and dependability
Notice that several of these elements pertain to the ongoing interview process. That’s right! A search firm’s responsibilities do not stop with simply finding the talent! They will also be instrumental in walking them through the hiring process. It is not difficult to create a positive candidate experience, but doing so should always be the top priority both for the hiring company and the search firm.

How Is an Executive Search Firm Helpful?

Executive search firms come into play when the in-house team is not well equipped or is too overloaded to conduct a strong search and hire process for an executive hire. Executive hires are particularly challenging as they involve a more white-glove approach, different search strategies, a longer close time and heftier negotiations. Executive recruiting is not for the faint of heart! Here are a few reasons why executive search firms are particularly equipped to help with this specialized hiring project:
  • They get it. Typically these firms hire recruiters who are highly skilled and experienced in finding “Grade-A” executive talent. They know what their targets want and they deliver!
  • Their resources are vast. Most of these teams have incredible resources, such as specialized search engines and resume databases, massive networks, unique AI and more. All of these combine to create a robust and effective talent search.
  • Brand recognition works. The best larger executive search groups are well branded, and executives at the top of their game know them. When these candidates get a message or call from a recruiter at a top search firm, they get excited. That is definitely how you want to begin the interview process!
There are several ways these firms can be of particular use in the search for the right executive, but they can be very different from one another, so it is important to know how to pick the right firm.

Tips for Choosing the Right Executive Search Firm

Funny enough, choosing the best executive search firm is much like an interview process. You need to decide your priorities, set your timeline and budget and interview prospects to make sure all of your needs are met. What does one look for in an executive search firm?

Tip 1: Look for Skill

This one seems obvious, but skill is harder to find than you may think. Not every firm is at the top of their game. Some firms who are superb at finding executives aren’t exclusively an executive search firm. Specialty is not necessarily a determining factor as you select your executive recruiting partner, but it should still be a factor. Skill is best tested by determining the firm’s history of results with similar roles, not just in title and industry, but in company size, culture, pay range and location to your open role. Asking for proof of success in forms of reference, testimonial, etc. is perfectly acceptable when speaking to potential recruiting partners. Outside of proof, pay attention to signs of expertise and enthusiasm.
  • Are they telling you positive or relevant stories about past clients and successes?
  • Are they dropping hints about how they would pursue candidates for your role?
  • Are they mentioning people in their network who may be strong candidates?
These are a few ways to spot a recruiter that truly understands and can satisfy the hiring project at hand.

Tip 2: Are You Aligned?

It doesn’t make sense for an animal rights organization to hire someone who walks into a meeting or interview wearing fur, right? Alignment matters. Any time you are looking for a vendor, especially a recruiting vendor, it is imperative that they align with your organizational values and can get behind your mission. Why? They must find candidates who do as well, and they have to sell your organization to those candidates. They have to “get it.” Be sure to probe past the shallow topics, such as copy/paste verbiage on a website, and really dive in. Make sure you are comfortable with this team representing your team and company.

Tip 3: Think About Pricing

This is a scary one when discussing executive search firms, as their pricing typically ranges from 25-35% of the annual base salary of the hire. That means you are often looking at spending from $40,000 to upwards of $125,000 for one hire. There are firms in the 15% to 20% range, and you might think, “I bet you don’t get as good of results.” However, you might be surprised. Often smaller firms charge less due to lower overhead and, in some cases, personal values. They may have many of the same resources and skills, making them a superb option for your executive search. The bottom line: executive searches cost a lot of money, so you need to be sure that the firm you choose has pricing that you can reasonably afford and that they are the best firm for your needs. More expensive and fancy does not necessarily mean better.


Executive search firms can be a tremendous asset for companies of all sizes and industries. You just have to be sure that you find the right team to best represent you in the executive candidate marketplace!
Katherine McCord, Innovating HR With Integrity

Katherine McCord, Innovating HR With Integrity

With global best hiring practices and true diversity hiring as her driving forces, Katherine launched Titan Management, a premier national talent acquisition and consulting organization, in 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Titan grew with great success across multiple industries, and has expanded services to take a more team-focused, less agency-style approach. Then, in 2020, she launched the international online show and podcast Career Launch Live, which tackles everything from best job seeker practices and DE&I to employee relations and payday law. Now, her patent-pending, anti-bias applicant tracking system, Titan ATS, is disrupting hiring technology and the way we look at applicants! It has been featured in Web Summit and HR Disruptor, as well as several publications.
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