The world of Executive Search continues to evolve and diversify so it can be quite complex for organisations to know how to navigate this industry. Certainly, clients can feel a little overwhelmed by the number of firms that operate across all disciplines within the market. However, there are a few practical steps that can be taken to make life easier for business leaders embarking on key projects with executive search firms.

1) Really Understand Your Prospective Executive Search Partner

Unfortunately, many firms now use the moniker “executive search” when in fact they are database-driven recruitment firms. So it is always worth checking to see if the firm you are working with has a dedicated in-house research team who work on search assignments. This is an important differentiator and underlines the approach an organisation takes and the investment they put into their process. It is worth asking for examples of “candidate mapping” from previous searches to illustrate their research-driven approach and for you to examine how exhaustive and precise the research typically is. Get the firm to illustrate with clarity their process to identify and secure a best-in-class shortlist and if required, you can request a weekly progress report for the project so you can see how the candidate selection process evolves. It is important to not take this for granted as even the biggest firms with large in-house research teams may not necessarily make the effort that is required. Clearly, your consulting partner should also be an expert in their field so make sure you know their individual background and expertise as relevant to your assignment rather than just the credentials of the firm. A true executive search firm will undertake a systematic process led by an experienced consultant and backed by an in-house research function to partner you for your project.

2) Ensure Your Search Partner Can Freely Access The Talent You Need

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. We can collectively, and as individuals, be very brand-centric and there is a natural risk aversion to using an unfamiliar search firm thereby sticking with a firm that your organisation knows. However, like any good Project Manager, the best approach is to review each new project with a clean slate and to then implement the best methodology to success. Is your current corporate Board search partner the right firm to use for the leadership requirement you have? Beyond the brand, how involved are they within the segment of the market that your ideal candidate sits? Questions such as these must be posed so you engage with search firms who are fully focused and specialist within the space that your project is looking to target. In relation to this, a point to raise when selecting an executive search firm is the level of headhunting restrictions they have. For example, it can be enticing to work with a specialist retail headhunter if you are a retail business but what if they cannot approach candidates in your direct competitors because those competitors are also their clients? What if the firm is more focused on large corporate Board-level hires and you are looking for a functional Director-level candidate? Always be certain that your search partner, irrespective of previous relationship and/or brand, are real experts amongst the community that you seek to engage with, operate at the right level and have limited restrictions in terms of accessing that talent.

3) Ensure The Project Is Cost-Effective And Results – Focused

At Bronzegate, we have a strict fee structure for retained searches which involves a nominal retention fee, no shortlist fee and then weights the majority of the fee (2/3 +) to completion. We also have agreed timelines for shortlist submission per assignment. This structure need not be the structure you insist on and many firms will not work under these terms. However, the point here is that you need to ensure there is genuine accountability from your search partner to deliver the right candidate in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner. Even if you do agree to pay 2/3 upfront in terms of retention fee and shortlist, it is imperative that there are clear milestones and targets to achieve. Otherwise, something that causes a lot of disgruntlement, you will have paid the bulk of the fee for a process, not for a hire and may be kept waiting for someone to land. Another way to keep things cost-effective is to negotiate. Many search firms will look to charge their fee at either a high rate or on the total annual package. More often than not, this can and should be negotiated. My personal view is that no search fee should be charged on the entirety of a package but should be based on the cash component of annual remuneration – not a popular view amongst the search fraternity but one my firm has very much in place. So, make sure you negotiate to better structure and agree costs, time-frames and expectations before committing to any search to ensure that the focus is on a successful hire every time.