What Is the Future of Executive Search?

As time moves on and technology advances, we can't help but wonder what the future holds for us. In this case, the recruitment industry as a whole is being questioned as more and more people begin to use online options rather than traditional “analog” toolkits. What's important to know is that it isn't just any company using digital methods of looking for new employees. Today, it is mainly large corporations that have access to significant budgets to invest in their recruitment strategies, mostly using digital options for online advertising, social media campaigns and their general hiring process.

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To explore executive search further, we should consider the present-day recruitment industry as a whole and consider the ways in which companies look for new talent have changed over recent years. This article on the future of executive search will investigate what the industry is doing to adapt and how it is embracing some of the available digital platforms.

The state of the recruitment industry in general

One may think that recruitment itself has been around since the beginning of time, but it wasn't actually until WWII when there was a significant shift from word-of-mouth to professionalised processes for finding new employees. From then on, more and more companies began taking part in this way of hiring until the 1960s where the term 'headhunter' entered into vocabulary and meant someone who found people for employers and recruited them directly into roles. 

In the 1990s, there were far greater changes as recruitment became more digital and moved away from print media to use technology as a way of finding people. From this point onwards, it has been quite a rapid development for those directly involved in recruitment with social media providing access to millions of potential candidates around the world, but now there is a different problem – whilst this provides a huge opportunity to companies, they will not take advantage of the opportunity unless they invest in an effective employer brand and ensure they have a digital footprint that speaks to candidates and serves to motivate and entice them into a recruitment conversation. It is a complex issue and doesn’t simply need a great website to solve the problem. It requires a full marketing solution and needs to be supported with an expert team of employer branding specialists to ensure the messaging remains current, relevant, and attractive to sought candidates.

The state of executive search today

Let’s go back further than using new digital strategies to finding candidates. This will present us with the idea that executive search is, in fact, not a new recruitment solution and dates back many decades but in practice, it was much more informal, and there is no good evidence to detail what it actually looked like at its inception. Today, the “executive recruiter” or “head hunter” job title is used and known for recruiters who tend to help companies to appoint senior level roles. The reality, however, is that executive search is a robust process that can be used to recruit any level of role and is very useful for challenging briefs where talent is in short supply or perhaps where geography presents an obstacle.

Executive Search today has embraced digital opportunities to cast the net wide. This means that, in addition to a very proactive approach to researching and engaging with target candidates, executive search consultants are now using online advertising, artificial intelligence platforms, specialist CV databases and also the various online services that Linked in provides to cast the net wider to support their direct headhunting or networking. Investing in digital has become a key part of any executive search strategy.

The future of Executive Search

Just as we can see that the recruitment industry as a whole has been evolving, so has executive search. Here are some three examples of what is being invested in by executive search firms :

1.     The use of data analytics

We live in a world where everything is becoming digitized, and this is no different when it comes to our data. Recruiters can now gather large amounts of data on potential candidates through their online activity- such as what they have liked on social media or the websites they have visited. This gives a better understanding of someone's professional interests and allows for a more personalised outreach service, and a better overall experience. Not only this, but with the rise of AI being implemented into recruitment tasks, we will see a much faster process where companies have access to more data than ever before and can provide better shortlists and expedite the speed at which hiring decisions are made.


2.     The use of a professional resourcing team

Many executive search consultancies have invested in resourcing or research teams. Research has become a specialist role in its own right and such teams provide great support to consultants to map out target industries and ensure all stones have been turned over in the process to delight clients with exceptional candidate shortlists.


3.     The use of advancing technology

Technology has made its way into almost every aspect of our lives, whether we like it or not. This is certainly true in the world of recruitment. Everything from the platforms and online tools used to conduct searches through to applicant tracking systems has been significantly improving. Many companies are investing in new technologies to both source candidates but also provide an engaging experience. There will be greater changes ahead too as artificial intelligence and other technologies develop further. Job seekers are already able to use chatbots via various messaging apps to easily submit applications for roles they are interested in without even needing to leave their feed and this will continue to develop and advance

Why do companies work with Executive Search firms?

There are many reasons why a company might work with an executive search firm instead of conducting the search themselves. Listed below are some of the most common:


1.     Lack of time

This is one of the most common reasons for working with a headhunter, as it can be difficult for companies to find the time to conduct an effective search never mind actually having the in-house expertise. Allowing a third party to do the work frees an organisation's time to focus on what it is expert at!!


2.     Lack of internal resources

Similar to the lack of time reason, some companies may not have the necessary resources to conduct an effective headhunt. Companies are also at a major disadvantage when approaching candidates themselves if their company has not invested in an impressive employer brand. Candidates will immediately investigate a company that they are approached by directly and there is no room for any soft approach that could be delivered by an Executive Search partner.


3.     Lack of expertise

Even if a company has the time and money to conduct a search themselves, they may not have the expertise required to do so effectively. This is where executive search firms come in as they have years of experience in this area and know how to quickly narrow down the relevant candidates.


4.     Access to a larger talent pool

Without executive search firms, companies would only be able to hire from the talent pool that they already have access to, whether it's on their website or through other channels. This would commonly be called the proactive talent pool which is candidates who are actively looking for a new career opportunity. However, headhunters are experts at finding the right people for the job through social media platforms plus more traditional methods such as proactive headhunting, network referrals or online advertising. This provides organisations with greater access to talent than they would have themselves.


5.     Better candidate shortlists

One of the biggest benefits of working with an executive search consultancy is that organisations can quickly receive shortlists of qualified candidates that don't require too much time to qualify. This is especially important for companies that are time-sensitive or have limited budgets as it's an efficient way to find the right person for the job instead of spending valuable resources on candidates who don't meet all of their requirements.


6.     Unease about privacy

Some organisations may feel uncomfortable with the idea of having headhunters look at their current staff or confidential information about company policy, salaries, etc.- which can be a legitimate concern. Working with an executive search firm makes this issue non-existent since all searches are overseen by strict confidentiality agreements between hiring managers and search firms, protecting both parties’ interests.


7.     Confidentiality agreement

Given the sensitive nature of many executive positions (such as those with C-level titles), it's not uncommon for companies to require a confidentiality agreement from executive search firms before beginning any kind of search. This document states that the headhunter will not reveal any confidential or proprietary information about the company or the candidates being considered to anyone without prior authorization.

As you can see, the future of executive search has some exciting changes coming up over the next decade and beyond. Executive search will allow companies and individuals to take full advantage of everything this industry has to offer. When properly executed, it is a very effective and one of the most rewarding experiences both for those who are being recruited and the employing companies as they are able to attract strong talent to enable their growth strategy. Whilst in house recruitment is growing, it actually has limitations that are solved by executive search methodologies. Executive Search will be here for a long time to come and has an exciting future ahead of itself.

For more information executive search and the value it will add to your company’s recruitment strategy, feel free to check out our Executive Search Consulting page. We're always happy to answer any questions people may have!

About the author
Doug Mackay
5 min read

Having started his career in Executive Search in 1998, Doug set up Collingwood in 2005 alongside his wife, Claire Mackay.

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