A Basic Guide to Working With a Search Firm

Apr 29, 2016

With multitudes of candidates vying for job vacancies daily, recruiters, executive search firms, and human resource professionals have their hands full in a dynamic cycle of sifting through the qualified and unqualified candidates.

If you are looking for ideal rank and file employees, your own recruiters are your best bet. However, if you are searching for managerial and top talent candidates, executive search firms are your friends.

According to ERE Media, 5.9% of companies’ external hires were recruited through search firms in 2013, a percentage almost certainly growing as in-demand talent gets scarcer, even as hiring increases.

Top tier positions (managerial to C-suite level), require a specialized recruitment process, which is different from the usual headhunting approach.

Executive level candidates, those who are experts in the industry, can take your company to greater heights. Still, recruiting and retaining the perfect candidate is not a walk in the park.

An executive search firm, unlike the typical recruitment services,  focuses its headhunting strategies, going beyond job posts and the usual social media sites utilizing its market intelligence and special tools to recruit the best person for the job.

Contingency vs. Retained Firms

When working with an executive search firm, you need to identify which type you are working with. Is it a contingency or retained search firm?

Retained search firms work on an upfront fee basis. They also work on an exclusive basis, which means you will get your candidates only from them. This type of search firm will conduct an exhaustive search to come up with a short list of top candidates for you.

Contingency search firms, on the other hand, work on a “no win, no fee” basis. This means you do not have to pay them until they have managed to find the right candidate for the job. Contingency search firms work with a large database of candidates to send as many candidates as fast as possible to the client for an interview. Typically, two and sometimes many firms will be competing to send you the candidate you eventually hire.


Here’s how the full executive search happens and what you can expect:

1. Meeting with the firm

Once you’ve chosen an executive search firm, you’ll meet with them for the contract signing. At this meet you’ll discuss your ideal candidate, requirements, estimated timeline, and your company’s  culture.

Giving the agency a feel for your business will aid in their search. The agency will also do its own research on your business to get a comprehensive view and understand how you are perceived in the marketplace.

2. Creating candidate personas and market research

Persona creation is a must to have a clear view of the candidate you want for the position. It requires thorough brainstorming of the firm’s executive consultants for a realistic profile.

It is the process of creating a “dummy” account based on your job requirements and specifications. After the persona, the firm will research the market to observe your competitors and learn more about your industry, as well as where the persona will fit in.

3. Formulating strategies for the executive search

Taking into account the research, personas, job specifications, and requirements, the firm will develop search strategies.

4. Determining and shortlisting executive candidates

Talent mapping or name generation is a process done by executive search firms to narrow down their search list. An initial list typically contains hundreds of qualified candidates. These are then reviewed and screened against both your requirements and factors developed by the agency through its research and understanding of your business and the market.

The result is a shortlist of at least 10 certified candidates that are a  match with your needs, and who also have an interest in you.

5. Delivering the shortlist for your approval

Most executive search firms perform a final evaluation of candidates’ profiles to ensure the credibility of the shortlist before giving it to your HR team. Afterward, depending on your choices, observations, and recommendations, the shortlist may be further refined before the interview process.

6. Closing the deal and welcoming your new executive

A search can take upwards of at least a month and is often longer, depending on your agreement with the firm. Once you have decided on a candidate, the search firm will work with you to ensure the offer is acceptable. Many firms prefer to present the offer themselves, since they’ve established a relationship with the candidate and can more frankly deal with issues that may arise.

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