What are the differences between an internal talent team vs a retained executive search partner?

Learn about the differences between an internal talent team vs a retained executive search partner in this blog that looks at these two recruitment solutions.

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What are the Differences Between an Internal Talent Team vs a Retained Executive Search Partner? They both offer a different value to your business

Recruiting top talent is the foundation of an organisation's success and ability to succeed. In today’s competitive talent market, the decision of whether to utilise an internal talent team or retain an executive search partner has never been more critical. Both offer unique advantages based on the needs of the company, and understanding these differences can be paramount in ensuring the right hiring choices are made. Below, we will delve into the primary distinctions between these two recruitment models.


What is an Executive Search Partner?

An executive search partner is a specialised recruitment service engaged by organisations to identify, attract, and hire professionals for various roles. This type of service tends to focus on senior-level positions, niche roles, or other specific areas of expertise. Unlike traditional contingency recruitment agencies that fill multiple vacancies across various levels, executive search partners focus on a select number of high-priority roles, ensuring a comprehensive and tailored approach. Executive Search quite often focuses on identifying and attracting “passive” candidates. These are candidates who aren’t proactively looking for a new role and so won’t be applying to adverts or registering themselves with contingency database recruitment agencies. To this end Executive Search is usually a bespoke service developed to solve a specific recruitment requirement or problem.


What is an Internal Talent Team?

An internal talent team, often known as an in-house recruitment team or corporate recruiters, comprises professionals dedicated to managing and executing the hiring needs of their organisation. These teams work within the company's framework, understanding its culture, goals, and long-term vision, and aligning talent acquisition strategies accordingly. An internal talent team usually combine delivering recruitment projects themselves with partnering a “preferred” recruitment supplier list.


Choosing Between an Executive Search Partner or an Internal Talent Team

If you’re in a position where you need to decide between using an executive search partner or utilising an internal talent team for recruitment, it really helps to compare the two approaches. So, to help you better understand which suits your needs best, let’s dive into their core differences:

  • Specialisation vs. Versatility

Internal talent teams often manage a range of roles across the company, from entry-level to executive positions. Although they are recruitment generalists, they have a deep understanding of the company's culture, objectives, and the nuances of different departments. This internal knowledge allows them to ensure candidates not only have the right skills but also will be a cultural fit.

Executive Search firms typically specialise in sourcing for high-level positions or very specialist roles. With a vast network and deep knowledge of specific sectors or roles, they can tap into “passive candidates” who might not be actively looking. Their expertise is in understanding the broader market, identifying potential candidate matches, and pitching the opportunity to the right individuals effectively. The collaborative and partnership orientated approach of executive search partners is such that they are quick to learn company cultures, structures and the nuances involved. They are experts at asking the right questions to build an attractive and exciting story that will engage “passive” candidates into a discussion.

  • Speed vs Precision

Given their familiarity with the company's operations and processes, internal teams might expedite the recruitment process. They're already aligned with the company’s systems, which can streamline job postings, application reviews, and interview coordination. However, more often than not there simply aren’t the right candidates available from their internal talent pool, particularly for senior or specialist roles.

While executive search firms might take longer due to their thorough approach, they are often more precise and robust in their search. Their meticulous processes ensure that the shortlisted candidates are the best fit for the role and the company's long-term objectives. In essence, they aim for quality over quantity.

Executive Search firms are able to invest time in building comprehensive talent pools that ensure all bases are covered to guarantee that the resulting candidate shortlist is made up of THE best and highest quality individuals for the role and not just those that were quickly available to an internal talent team.

  • Cost Considerations

Hiring through an internal team can be cost-effective, but only if the right talent is available. While there's an ongoing cost related to salaries, infrastructure, and recruitment tools, there's no additional fee for each hire. This can help keep costs down, but if the right candidate isn’t available for a given role, then the search can take quite some time.

Executive search firms typically charge bespoke rates depending on the needs of their client. These fees typically include costs associated with research, finding candidates and successful appointments. Although this may seem like a pricier option at first, the structure used by these firms tends to ensure successful candidate placement in a reasonable timeframe.

Recruitment should be considered as an investment and measured as such. So, what is the ROI of using an internal talent team versus partnering with an executive search consultancy? Ultimately there is a cost impact on your business if either a role remains vacant for a long time or if the right candidate isn’t found. Worse still is if the candidate doesn’t work out.

  • Objectivity vs Subjectivity

Internal teams might sometimes have inherent unconscious biases, given their close connections within the organisation. This familiarity can influence their judgement, either positively or negatively, based on past experiences or relationships.

With an outsider's perspective, executive search firms can approach the hiring process with a higher degree of objectivity. Their primary interest is to find the best match for the role, uninfluenced by internal politics or dynamics. An executive search process gathers valuable data that can be used in a recruitment process. It should provide a range of different options and data that challenges your thinking. Perhaps you were going to merely replace an outgoing employee with exactly the same when, in fact, there are far better options you haven’t thought of. Understanding the wider talent pool and what your competitors are doing could change your thinking and ultimately result in an appointment that will add more value to you.

  • Reach and Networking

While internal teams have access to the company’s existing talent pool and can leverage employee referrals, their network might be limited compared to specialised search firms, especially when seeking rare skills or specific industry expertise. This can make it difficult - or nigh-on impossible - for internal teams to find the right fit for certain roles.

Retained executive search firms typically have extensive networks cultivated over years of working in specific sectors. This vast reach ensures that they can tap into a broader pool of candidates, including passive candidates who are not actively seeking new opportunities.

Furthermore, executive search partners can approach candidates without having to tell them the name of the client they are representing. This is a fantastic way to cause intrigue and curiosity and bring candidates into a discussion. On the otherhand, an internal talent team approach candidates with their employer’s name written all over their correspondence or Linked in profile. This will result in a visit to your web page and research around your digital footprint. If they don’t like what they see or have the wrong perception of your business, then they are unlikely to progress to a conversation. Websites serve a purpose but not many actually bring the real company story to life. The cultural nuances, the confidential future plans or the success stories of candidates who have joined previously. It is far easier to bring these to life in a conversation rather than rely on your digital footprint.

  • Scalability and Flexibility

If a company experiences rapid growth, the internal team might find it challenging to scale their efforts quickly enough to meet hiring demands. We quite frequently hear of internal Talent Acquisition Consultants looking after 20 plus roles on their own. Is this possible to be effective? On the other hand, during downtimes, the team might be underutilised which means their value to the company drops significantly.

In contrast to this, companies can engage with executive search partners as and when needed. This flexibility allows organisations to ramp up or scale down their hiring efforts based on current needs without maintaining a large in-house recruitment team. It also provides a flexible cost base that can also be scaled up and down without having to make redundancies and damage your industry reputation.


Which is Right for You?

Both internal talent teams and retained executive search partners offer distinct advantages. The decision between the two often comes down to the specific needs of the company, the nature of the role, budget considerations, and the desired outcome. By understanding the core differences and evaluating them against the organisation’s objectives, companies can make informed choices that bolster their talent acquisition strategy.


If you’d like to learn more about executive search, or would like our experts to help with your recruitment needs, please contact us at Collingwood Executive Search today.

About the author
Doug Mackay
10 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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