You will invest in professional service firms, why wouldn’t you invest in executive search?

Every business leader is regularly faced with important decisions regarding their workforce. Ensuring that you have the best available individual, working in the correct environment, is an essential part of delivering wider business strategy. However, while a large proportion of decision makers will invest in professional service firms to optimise efficiency, solve problems and in turn aid strategy delivery, most do not feel comfortable investing in an executive search partner to deliver a better team. This is central to delivering strategy so why is the investment such a difficult decision?

header curve

This article explores the benefits of partnering with an Executive Search Partner and explains what differentiates an Executive Search Firm / Headhunter from a Database Recruitment Agency and expands upon why you may want to invest in an executive search partner. This will be done by consistently drawing parallels between the services and experience offered by established professional service firms and executive search partners.


Executive Search / Headhunter vs. Database Recruitment Agency

Far too many of the companies who approach an executive search partner have already exhausted other methods of filling vacancies. Whether this is internal recruitment, social media advertising or working with a more traditional database recruitment agency, these options require less upfront investment but often fail to yield high calibre candidates. As a result, many look to a headhunter expecting a magic wand as a last resort to fill their critical vacancy. However, very few truly understand what working with an executive search partner consists of, and as a result will often shy away from the upfront investment of such a partnership. The key differentiating factor lies in the human driven research and project management.

"Key Differences Between Retained Executive Search and Contingency Recruitment Agencies"

Traditional ‘database’ Recruitment agencies will often utilise online databases of candidates to perform a ‘tick box’ search for the client – this can often leave businesses lacking. An executive search partner collaborates with clients to ensure that shortlisted candidates do not just fit the brief, in terms of qualifications and experience, but also align with the company culture and future strategy. Furthermore, an executive search consultant and their research team are experts in their field and will utilise their established networks and expertise to proactively source and entice the best passive talent. In the same way as KPMG’s Deal Advisory team is made up of experts who ‘become trusted advisors, not just for one deal, but for the long run’, an effective executive search partner can provide you with the expertise required when building your senior leadership / wider team and strategy – not just for a one off hire.

Working with experts who proactively source the best talent to ensure a technically sound and culturally aligned member of your team naturally sounds appealing and worthy of investment. However, headhunting does not exist in a perfect world and the right talent is often hard to identify and, as such, there is a risk that comes alongside upfront investment. This is where partnering with an executive search firm can further your chances of success. An experienced executive search partner provides a different experience to more traditional database recruitment agencies, which can often give the wider industry a bad name. There is focus on the experience of the client, whether this is through consistent contact with consultants or through the process itself. A focus on transparency, integrity and completing the project in an ethical way, are central to your partner thus minimizing the risks to you, the client.

An article titled the ‘Importance of Transparency of a consulting firm building your software’ highlights the following questions as the key to understanding whether your partner acts with transparency. Expertise, point of contact, estimation and pricing, commitment, employees, and quality assurance are the key transparency indicators outlined. A true executive search partner will be able to answer these upfront, in the same way that a true consulting partner would be able to – which should reassure the client that they are entering into a partnership and are guaranteed a collaborative experience.


Client Experience

In the world of investment management, Deloitte conducted primary research into the seven important drivers of client experience: Partnership approach, clarity of purpose and communication, long termism, know me, attentiveness, operational friction, and doing the basics well. Many of these principles ring true in the experience of working with an authentic executive search partner. Focusing on the first two drivers of client experience, the benefits of investing in an executive search partner will be analysed.

By the very nature of the term partner, investing in an executive search partner should yield a collaborative relationship. Briefing meetings and consultations alongside preliminary research to understand the landscape of suitable professionals within the proximity of the client site create a two-way process in which the client and consultant work together to identify the right individuals for the role.

Further, the consultant spends time in briefing meetings aiming to gain insight into the culture of the client’s business which allows for the right individual to be recruited and enhances the possibility of a long-term partnership. Issues will often arise throughout any project. In an executive search environment these often stem from overly specific briefs, lack of talent within the geographical area, issues with salaries amongst other things. Solving problems is a central reason for hiring a Professional Service firm but its consultants also have a professional responsibility to collaborate with their client and ‘ask whether the problem as posed is what most needs solving’ – often the client needs help defining the real issue. An executive search partner should work in the same way. Working alongside the client allows for a greater understanding of why these problems are occurring and aids the client in defining what the true barrier is. Working together, the client and consultant can define and solve these problems to pinpoint the correct candidates that meet the strategic aims of the business.

Communication is key in any partnership, whether that is within executive headhunting, wider professional relationships or personal lives, and strong communication and transparency is a major benefit of partnering with an executive search firm. The partner relationship discussed above underpins the communication you will receive but with shifting briefs, barriers to finding the right candidates and other natural problems along the way, a client who is looking for a quick and effective hire needs to be kept informed. Working with an executive search partner consists of more than a briefing, CVs received, interviews, then placement. The briefing and strategy meetings allow for a two-way discussion to understand what the client is looking forward and explain how the headhunter will look to find it. From here, a collaborative strategy document will be designed before the commencement of the project. Then, there will be consistent catch-up calls between the client and consultant to discuss issues, progress, candidates, and many partners will offer their clients access to an online portal, in which the client can track the progress of the project in real time. This does clearly mean that there is an investment of time required by the client, alongside the monetary investment, but it guarantees a transparent and collaborative approach. Working in such a way allows for the best chance of securing a cultural fit, in addition to a candidate with the correct technical experience and therefore allows the best chance of success for the client’s strategy.

A partnership fuelled by communication and collaboration ensures the best client experience and the best chance of a return on investment for a client. A true executive search partner will offer that.

Read this ‘What are the benefits of Executive Search’ for more information.


Innovation, Problem Solving, Expert & Bespoke Service

While many of the points discussed explain the soft reasons for investing in an executive search partner, there are crucial concrete reasons why the investment is often wise. As discussed above, you will partner with a professional service firm with the knowledge that experts in their field will be working with you. Partnering with an executive search firm works in the same way. Many will describe themselves as executive search consultants or headhunters but it is not a profession which you can gain a degree in or complete a training course on; it instead stems from time taken to become an expert, having robust sector knowledge, and curiosity to really understand the sector and leave no stone unturned. As such, partnering with an executive search firm gives you the undivided time and attention of an industry expert, who has recruited candidates in similar roles for many years, who is keen to develop a long-standing partnership with you to effectively deliver your wider business strategy. Given that the experience is driven by a human research team and a consultant, working with an executive search partner also ensures a bespoke service. There is no ‘one size fits all’ process which consists of criteria being pushed in one end and a candidate being pushed out the other. Instead, the consultant works around you, your business and your wider strategy aims to deliver a unique service. Naturally, this requires more investment than a set, tick-box approach.

Finally, executive search firms now look to drive innovation, whether that is within the client experience, in the individuals that are recruited, or within the client’s wider business strategy. Such an approach rings true at major professional service firms; PwC’s ‘Global Innovation Challenge’ is an opportunity for their community of solvers to turn their innovations into commercial solutions to solve problems. These solvers also utilise their intrinsic innovation to drive solutions for their clients which will maximise the return on investment, and this is what executive search firms look to harness for you. Outside of the box ideas and research methods will identify candidates that the client may not have initially pictured as right for their organisation, but through consultant interviews and CV sharing, these individuals can be brought to life, and they may well be the key to the success of the client’s business strategy. While this is an experience driven by human interaction, there is also a clear focus on technology. Accenture’s technology vision explores areas they feel will add value to their clients; executive search firms similarly experiment with AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies to mine further into the passive talent market and identify the best candidates. As such, partnering with an executive search firm provides you with a bespoke experience, driven by human expertise and innovation alongside the newest technologies to give the client the best opportunity of hiring the right talent.


To Conclude

The investment in partnering with an executive search firm may be daunting and it is understandable that many are conscious of paying over the odds to hire an individual. As such, a cheaper option such as internal recruitment or a contingency database recruitment  agency may be appealing. However, this article has articulated several reasons why the investment may well be worth it. The key is to treat your team in the same way as all other processes within your business – they are the ones who deliver the strategy and achieve the company’s wider aims. If you picture investing in an executive search partner in a similar light to investing in a professional service firm through the similarities in this article, the idea of investing in an executive search partner may well seem worth it.  


About the author
Mark Goldsmith
8 min read

With 23 years of recruitment experience under his belt, Mark has spent the last 19 focused on Building Products & Construction.

Read more >