What is executive search?

Executive search is a specialised type of recruitment, in which an employer pays a recruitment agency to research the market, develop a shortlist of engaged candidates, and take the candidates through the hiring process including interviews and offer stages.

An executive search normally only occurs for:

  • senior to executive level roles (Marketing Director, CMO, CPO, Product Director for example)
  • for roles which are key to the business’s performance
  • senior roles which are difficult to fill or niche / specialist skill sets are required
  • confidential roles for any reason

What is headhunting?

For these senior and executive level roles, the recruiter often engages in headhunting as well as scouring the candidate network already known to them. Headhunting is where a recruitment agency identifies ‘passive’ candidates – those candidates that possess the right domain experience, leadership qualities and personal qualities but are not ‘active’ in the market, i.e., they are not looking for a new job or have applied to your open vacancy.

A headhunter often completes a market mapping research exercise identifying key competitors within the industry and other closely related sectors. The headhunter then looks at the individuals at those competitor companies, and targets any of those employees that look to match the skill set and experience required. This research phase is extensive to ensure that every possible candidate is considered. Headhunters then traditionally reach over via email, phone or via LinkedIn InMail.

Headhunters are known for being discreet and operating in a confidential manner, working closely with you its clients to define needs, identify where the talent may be, what package and benefits should be offered and how to engage the very best.

Due to the detailed and thorough methodology involved in executive search, where a proactive and multi-channel approach is utilised, payment for services is structured differently to other recruitment methods. Executive search firms normally ask for a third of the fee to be taken on agreement of the assignment, a third on shortlist of candidates, and a third on placement. As part of the fee is paid upfront, this is known as a retained executive search.

What is recruitment?

An organisation may look to a recruiter when they are looking to make a new hire or have a series of vacancies, but lack the time and resources to complete the hiring process from end-to-end. Often businesses try recruitment themselves internally before being frustrated by:

  • losing candidates at offer stage
  • losing candidates to major competitors
  • candidates not turning up to interviews
  • limited talent available with the specific domain or niche experience required
  • how much time and admin is involved in the process; including research, candidate shortlisting, scheduling interviews and giving individualised feedback

So a recruiter will be engaged, often on a contingency recruitment basis, where the business only pays on placement of a candidate put forward by the agency. This is a common method of recruitment and is less risky for businesses than a retained search, however the amount of time and quality of the search and candidates shortlisted are often affected too.


If you are an employer who is looking for executive search recruitment help within marketingproduct management or eCommerce and need help deciding between executive search or contingency recruitment, contact us today and we can help you get started.

Executive Search Recruiter