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Executive Search Recruiters: Source & Hire Diverse Leadership Talent

Updated: May 25, 2022

There are two key reasons why an organization might want to delegate their leadership talents’ recruiting needs to a specialized executive recruiter or search firm.

  • First, executive recruiters provide operational and strategic leadership needed to help organizations achieve their core business goals.

  • Secondly, these individuals are super important for the company’s cultural and organizational DNA.

These executive recruitment firms and executive recruiters are also known as headhunters. They look for executive leaders who have demonstrated exceptional leadership abilities.

Though these executive positions represent only a very small portion of the total workforce, these leaders play a vital role in providing strategic leadership to the rest of the workforce and coordinating critical aspects of the business operations from setting goals to developing strategies and ensuring these strategies are effectively executed.

As can be seen, filling executive positions require advanced recruiting methods and strategies than your average hiring process is capable of providing. So, in this article, we’ll highlight how executive search firms can bring value to your organization when you need diverse talents and leadership for top-level positions.

What is an executive recruiter?

An executive recruiter is a specialist recruiting professional or agency with a specialty in helping organizations find individuals with unique traits, skills, expertise, and experience to fill senior management roles and C-suite positions.

Executive recruiters can also be commonly referred to as executive headhunters. They are also referred to as executive search firms. These specialist agencies operate across diverse industries, working as a linking force between employers and executive candidates.

Executive recruiters fill highly specialized, confidential, or critical leadership talent positions, typically at the Director to C-Level including board member positions in a retained search model.

What is a retained search?

With this service, companies work exclusively with one retained search firm. A dedicated team will be assigned to meet the firm's clients' hiring requirements with an experienced, top-performing hire. The retained search firms take on the responsibility of sourcing and recruiting only passive candidates, i.e., employees who are already employed at a specific target company and are not actively seeking new employment opportunities.

Furthermore, retained recruiters perform a deeper and more comprehensive vetting of the applicant's qualifications and skill set in order to gauge how this candidate will fit within a specific organization or team. As a result, a long list of qualified candidates is typically whittled down to a short list of 3-5 candidates who meet or exceed the requirements of the position.

For example, an executive recruiter working on a retained basis for technology executives' search will use its database, business contacts, and other sourcing methods to contact executives to share with them about the opportunity. There is regular communication at a high level to identify the interested talent. Executive recruiters find the top talent, conduct extensive interviews, comprehensive assessments, and background checks.

While evaluating the overall fit for the role, executive recruiters prepare sophisticated written summary profiles/reports describing the candidate's behavioral profile and pointing out indicators of past performance, strengths, and potential areas for development.

What is the difference between a recruiter and an executive recruiter?

Contingent recruiters spend most of their time trying to find candidates who are “good enough” to fill a large number of high-volume hiring positions. For executive recruiters, however, the focus is on quality rather than quantity.

There is also a difference in the type of candidates both types of executive recruiters manage as well as the exact approach to recruiting these candidates.

While regular recruiting firms often handle diverse non-executive job openings, sometimes even for roles without specialized skills, or for candidates with multiple skills matching different roles, an executive search firm works differently.

An executive recruiter adopts a proactive way of finding candidates for senior-level positions by engaging specialized talent professionals whose only focus is on sourcing and recruiting candidates with the right technical skills, expertise, and experience to occupy hard-to-fill business-critical executive positions. They often recruit from passive candidate pools and the service is highly specialized.

Executive recruiter skills

Executive recruitment requires specialized skills and expertise, beyond what a regular staffing agency might be able to provide. For example:

  • Excellent market knowledge and experience in the industry and positions being recruited for.

  • Strong interpersonal skills as well as excellent speaking and listening skills.

  • Superior negotiation prowess and skills to represent the best interests of the applicant or client firm they are serving.

  • Technical knowledge of the latest technology trends and tools from the latest candidate sourcing technology to cutting-edge customer relationship management software.

  • Robust expertise and experience with conflict resolution, identifying personality traits, and reviewing candidates.

  • Excellent networking skills.

Executive recruitment process

Many executive recruiters work independently while some act as representatives of their client companies or executive candidates. So, depending on what the engagement looks like, the executive recruitment process might involve one or more of the following tasks and activities:

  • Curating the client’s job requirements for senior positions.

  • Deploying out-of-the-box strategies to research and identify potential executive candidates.

  • Conducting portfolio and resume checks and initial screening as well as scheduling candidate interviews to identify the best candidates for open roles.

  • Managing candidate consultation and similar downstream services like salary negotiation.

  • Managing clients’ or candidates’ accounts including daily activities such as email correspondence, handling phone calls and communications between clients and candidates, and closing a successful placement, among other things.

  • Establishing communication and relationships with job candidates through diverse channels like cold calling, social media, networking, job ads, etc.

  • Conducting post-offer reference checks as well as managing the onboarding process for the hired candidate.

  • Deploying innovative diversity hiring techniques to help improve an organization’s hiring process and workforce diversity, even in senior management roles.

Executive recruiter fees and search timeframe

Moreover, a typical retained search can last from 90 to 180 days. By representing the employer brand and value proposition messaging in the market, retained firms serve as an authorized extension of an organization's HR or talent acquisition team.

Ultimately, retained firms handle more of the technical aspects of the search, allowing the organization to focus primarily on the candidate’s cultural fit during the interview process.

As a result, the organization can focus mainly on the cultural fit of the candidates within the organization, while the retained firm handles the more competency aspect of the search.

In the event that you retain a retained firm, be prepared to pay for their services upfront; usually, one-third of fees are due at the beginning of the search, one third within 45-60 days, and the remainder is paid either between 90 and 180 days after the hire.

Boutique executive search firms vs large national/global firms advantages

As with regular recruiters, organizations have the option to partner with either a smaller boutique executive search firm or a larger/global search firm when they need the services of an executive recruiter. So how are both of these routes similar or different?

As can be seen, going smaller can benefit organizations and candidates in many ways than one. With a boutique executive recruiter, the process for either candidate or a client company is much more targeted, intimate, and specialized.

More than larger companies with a global footprint, boutique executive recruitment firms are better at developing more personalized and thorough placement procedures with regard to the candidate’s or client’s preferences, history with the firm, and locality, among other things.

Because of their small size, search professionals at boutique executive recruiting firms are better at maintaining existing relationships, building new ones, and keeping their clients satisfied.

While large companies of national and global executive recruiters may help candidates and client companies generate wider and more diverse results, at the core, they lack a sense of specialization and personalization, due to their large size. While this may also mean quicker results, such results may be lacking in areas such as specialization and the ability to focus on local expertise, and properly catering to a candidate’s unique requirements or the client’s core company culture needs.


All of these recruitment models have their pros and cons, but the choice ultimately depends on the unique hiring situation of your organization.

Typically, executive jobs require highly technical skills and vast industry experience; therefore, expert headhunters should be consulted to ensure your executive bench is well-built, maintained, and retained.

Engaging the services of a contingent search company like Accendi Direct Hire Recruitment Solutions can be the ideal solution if you are looking for a non-exclusive recruitment partner on a short lead time.

In contrast, if you are seeking to hire a retained search firm to exclusively fill a leadership position that requires close collaboration with your executive team and HR department on a business-critical search or a confidential basis, a retained search company is the best choice.

Accendi Group's Executive Search Firm division can assist you with our in-depth candidate screenings which allow us to prioritize quality over quantity, as we tailor our process to align with your organization’s values, thereby mitigating the risk of making a bad hire.

For more information about Accendi Group's executive search practice, check out our website or contact us for a free consultation.

This article was written by Consultant, Crystal Mano.

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