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FAQ: What is Executive Search?

What is executive search and what can C-suite, Board and Human Resources recruiters do for you? Here are some frequently asked questions about how executive search differs from typical recruiting, how it works and how it can help your organization.

Typical Questions about Executive Search

What is “executive search”?

Executive search firms are teams of specialized recruiters who look for high-level candidates for top positions within companies.

Consultants from executive search firms have a wide range of personal contacts in specific industries. They have expertise about a specific field that helps them find exactly who they are looking for. After collecting a group of potential candidates, they sort through them and conduct thorough interviews, enabling them to choose a few top people to bring to their clients.

How is executive search different from recruiting?

An executive search firm specializes in permanent, direct placements at the executive level of employment. They help fill upper management positions at companies, usually for six-figure salaries and above.

An employment agency for standard recruitment, on the other hand, works with temporary, entry-level, and middle-level employees. In some cases, they are placing people in temporary roles that have a chance of becoming permanent, and in other cases are staffing permanent positions.

What is a retained search, and how does it work?

In a retained executive search, the search firm charges an upfront amount to carry out the search. The search is also done on an exclusive basis, so that no other recruiting firm is working on the search.

What is the difference between a retained search and a “contingency” search?

A contingent search firm is a type of recruitment agency that works on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. Contingent search firms only receive payment if they successfully place a candidate with the client company.

While a contingency search has similarities to a retained search and doesn’t require the upfront fee, a retained search offers advantages such as greater focus and research before and throughout the search, in-depth candidate assessment, a commitment to delivering a slate of top-choice  candidates and a final executive placement, structured and confidential processes, and involvement throughout the process including final negotiations and offer acceptance.

Why should a company do a retained executive search, rather than finding candidates on their own?

While many companies have the ability to hire executives on their own, finding the right talent can be tough. Simply posting a job opening on job boards or your company’s website is not usually enough. The reason is that top executives aren’t looking for new job openings on job boards, they’re already employed. They’re accustomed to finding jobs through their network and connections. Executive recruiters have experience working in these circles, can gain access to these working professionals for you, and are more likely to get them interested in a position. 

For example, Human Resources recruiters are able to tap into networks of People/HR executives with a wide range of backgrounds and highly specific skills 

What is the search process like?

The process of an executive search includes an in-depth assessment of the executive role’s requirements, evaluation of the organization’s gaps and opportunities within a function, preparation for interviews, ongoing reporting and open communications, offer negotiation and onboarding consulting.

See also Our Executive Recruiters’ Search Process.

What if a company wishes to keep a current search confidential?

There are times when you may wish to do a search without announcing it externally, if you haven’t communicated it yet to your team. We can maintain the level of confidentiality you need, for example by not publicizing the job opening or by keeping the organization anonymous in outreach to candidates.

If you’re a candidate seeking a job, how can an executive recruiter help you?

If you are a candidate, working with an executive recruiter also means you’re more likely to find jobs that you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed for you. This expert is connected to companies who are actively seeking to fill executive roles.

FAQ about Human Resources Recruiters for HR Executive Roles

Do Human Resources recruiters differ from executive recruiters working to fill a role in Finance, Sales, Marketing or another function?

The search process we have developed, the experience you’ll have as our client, and the high-touch approach provided by our executive search recruiters (also known as consultants) does not differ across functions. The only difference is in the role-specific research and insights we’ll leverage to ensure we meet your needs.

What types of executive roles does a Human Resources (HR), People or People Ops team need?

Starting with a Head or HR or People–a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO)—executive leaders range from a Senior Vice President, Vice President or Director of HR/People to leaders of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), Talent Acquisition (TA), Total Rewards and HR Business Partners (HRBPs).

For more information see Types of HR Executive Roles.

Frederickson Partners, a Gallagher company is a market leader in retained executive search since 1995. As one of the top-rated HR executive search and C-suite recruiting firms, we have expertise in placing Chief People Officers, Chief Human Resources Officers, Chief Diversity Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Legal Officers and many other senior leaders. We draw on a broad network of rising and established executives and leaders, and a 28-year reputation as a talent acquisition and HR Advisory provider.

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