When a gap appears in your leadership or senior-level teams, you’ll need to hire a talented and capable individual, one that can help your business to meet its strategic goals and enhance your competitive advantage. However, identifying the right professional can be a difficult challenge, especially when the role you’re hiring for requires a specific skill set that’s hard to come by. To help you make the right strategic hire for your current need, executive search could be one of the smartest investments your business can make.

In this guide to executive search, we tell you everything you need to know about this specialised, strategic type of recruitment that focuses on finding the strongest candidates with particular skill sets who are traditionally hard to find. We’ll discuss the benefits of executive search and guide you through the process to offer you a flavour of how it works. We’ll also help you to identify when it’s time to work with an executive search company. 

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Executive search: everything you need to know

A lot of people think that executive search and recruitment agencies perform the same services, when in fact, executive search recruitment is quite different from your average hiring process. To kick start your understanding of executive search, we’ve answered some of the most common questions on this topic.


What is executive search?

Executive search is a specialised type of recruitment that aims to identify, attract and recruit highly-skilled professionals of a high calibre. Typically, this term describes the hiring of difficult to source talent for the most senior roles within specialist areas - usually talented individuals that possess a rare set of skills. Generally, executive search seeks out candidates who can provide an immediate and long term impact on a business once hired.


Why is executive search important?

Finding in-demand candidates for specific roles is an intense process in any industry. That’s where executive search comes in, forming a vital process in the growth of an organisation and the highly-skilled people it hires. In any business, employees are the defining factor in what the business can or will achieve. A good hire can propel a business forward, whereas a bad hire can sometimes hinder development.


What is an executive search firm?

An executive search firm is a recruitment company - or a third-party firm - that is generally hired to find and recruit talented candidates for pivotal roles at a senior level. They’re different from regular recruitment agencies in both their approach to sourcing qualified candidates and how closely they work with their clients.

  • At Carrot Executive, we work in partnership with our clients to map out, engage and secure senior-level or difficult to source talent. We’re firmly positioned to help you make key resourcing decisions in the markets you operate in. We take on the burden for you and provide the opportunity for you to get your hire right the first time. Discover our executive search solutions here.


Why do companies work with executive search firms?

Recruiting top-performing talent can be labour intensive and some positions are too important not to invest in. Employers turn to executive search firms because the position for which they’re hiring is critical within the business; they don’t have the knowledge, time or resources to give such a task their full attention; or hiring the wrong person could have a significant impact and they want to minimise the risk of a bad hire.


What is retained executive search?

Retained executive search refers to the process of sourcing senior talent through extensive research, following best practices to identify all of the potential candidates suitable for an opportunity. An executive search firm can directly approach senior talent who are currently employed, or target companies to persuade candidates who are not actively looking for a new role. A good executive search consultant will work very closely with their clients and are engaged in all aspects of the talent attraction and hiring process. 


What is the difference between retained and contingency searches?

Both retained and contingency searches aim to hire people into either permanent or temporary positions. However, there are some key differences to note when deciding if you should take the retained or contingency approach.

Consultants perform contingency searches for free until they place the candidate into the vacant position. There are no upfront costs, and you pay the agency a predetermined fee, usually a percentage of the candidate’s annual salary, at the point your new hire starts. If the agency fails to place a successful candidate with you, then you’re not required to pay a fee.

When opting for a retained approach, you enter an agreement with your executive search firm. You’ll pay a deposit prior to commencement, followed by two or three further instalments at key phases of the project.  Retained search can take  6 - 12 weeks because the approach entails a considerably more in-depth and consultative process. One key advantage of this method is that your recruitment partner is far more dedicated to your assignment and will persevere further than in a contingent recruitment setting.  

  • At Carrot Executive, we’ve refined our executive search solutions to be as transparent as possible. Our retained pricing model works on a fixed fee approach - our calculation of fees is based on time spent, not as a percentage of salary. This means our fee stays the same, regardless of the salary offered to the eventual hire. This approach can sometimes provide better value, is a more honest reflection of the actual work involved, and allows the client to budget confidently from the start.

The advantages of using executive search

Finding highly skilled professionals is becoming increasingly difficult for organisations to manage alone. When the importance of a hire warrants the investment, turning to the services of a reputable executive search firm can play highly in your favour. 

Let’s take a look at the advantages of using executive search when your team needs a talented professional to join them.

Executive search methods explore connections

Believe it or not, the most favourable candidates aren’t found on job boards, and they’re not applying to job vacancies posted online. Your potential candidates are employed, passive, and they prefer to find new opportunities through networked connections and referral programs. Thankfully, executive recruiters have spent years building a network of highly skilled talent. When a senior position becomes available, the consultant has access to an extensive list of connections and can present potential candidates with compelling reasons to consider a new opportunity.


Executive search finds high-quality candidates

Every organisation wants to be successful. To achieve business objectives, ambitions and goals, you need exceptional employees who can lead you to the top. When hiring new talent, the quality of the candidate is essential. Executive search works to provide you with the most skilful candidates who can achieve the biggest impact. From rigorous evaluation to in-depth interviewing, executive search helps you to determine the most suitable candidate for a role.


Executive search is cost-effective

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a large or small company, using an executive search firm can be a cost-effective solution for hiring senior-level talent. Locating the best candidates for a position is a time-consuming and expensive process, especially when you weigh in the costs of running a recruitment campaign, screening and interviewing candidates, and other tasks. 

For a fixed fee, Carrot Executive can decrease the workload associated with the recruitment process, allowing you to spend more time managing other important functions of your business.

Executive search reduces the possibility of a bad hire

It’s important to get recruitment right the first time around or you may end up suffering the consequences of a bad hire. Hiring an employee that doesn’t fit the role can result in wasted training efforts, a loss of productivity can impact staff morale and the termination of their employment can add further costs to your business. Working with an executive search specialist can significantly reduce the chances of bringing the wrong person into your company. Executive recruiters search more intelligently and recruit smarter. This way, you gain a serious competitive advantage in talent acquisition. 


Executive search helps you retain employees longer

Executive search services focus on doing whatever it takes to find the right person for a role. This includes extensively mapping out the talent in a particular market and identifying potential candidates who not only fit the position but whose values also align with the company’s own culture and values.


Confidentiality is key

When a company is looking to replace an existing member of its leadership team or create a new role opening that isn’t yet public knowledge, the process of replacing and/or hiring needs to be completed in a confidential manner. When discretion is necessary, executive search firms know how to assist expertly and will work discretely to handle sensitive engagements.


How the executive search process works

The executive search process varies from one executive search agency to another. Each has its unique methods, tools and approaches when managing talent, drawing analysis from the market and consulting with highly-skilled candidates. To understand the executive search process, we’ll walk through how executive search typically works.


Briefing meeting between the executive search firm and the client

In the first step of the executive search process, an executive search firm will spend time with key stakeholders and hiring managers to develop a better understanding of the position that needs filling. During these in-depth conversations, the client will help the search firm to learn about the company’s operations and processes, strategy and mission, culture, values, and will address potential sticking points. Most importantly, the client will provide details about the specific skills and abilities required of the candidate to fill their vacant role. This information allows the executive search firm to produce detailed notes that support the applicant selection process.


Research, search strategy and proposal

Using information provided by the client, the executive search firm will build out a candidate specification and begin to identify what talent pools exist in the client’s market. The specification will detail core competencies, candidate experience, personal qualities, and serve as a blueprint to ensure the search remains focused and competitive. Alongside the candidate specification, the executive search firm will develop a search strategy that considers potential targets including candidates and companies most likely to yield the best hires. Finally, the search firm will create a proposal for the client that breaks down the strategy, timeline, and fees.

  • At Carrot Executive, we go one step further and provide our clients with a full talent mapping report as part of the process whilst identifying suitable candidates. This allows you to view potential targets before the outreach phase. Want to know more? Click here.


Creating the job description and candidate search

Once the proposal has been approved by the client, they will provide the executive search firm with a job description containing information about the role including details of the hiring company, responsibilities, competency and educational requirements, and a list of key opportunities offered within the role.

Next, the executive search firm will execute the search strategy to source the strongest candidates most suitable for the role. During this phase of the process, search consultants will approach highly-skilled professionals to determine which have the best leadership experience, the most appropriate skill sets, and which are most closely aligned with the hiring company’s values and culture. Candidates with the strongest potential will be screened to ensure they are a good match prior to submitting their profile to the client for consideration.


The assessment stage 

The executive search firm will conduct interviews and evaluate top prospective candidates for the hiring company. Candidates will undergo face-to-face or video conference interviews to explore their background, competencies and interest in the role. The search firm narrows down a list of potential candidates into the shortlist to be presented to the client. Usually, this list contains 3-5 candidates that demonstrate the strongest potential. As the client reviews the shortlist, the executive search firm will provide their final thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. The client will then conduct their own interviewing process prior to making any decisions on whom to offer the role.


Offer and onboarding

Once all of the discussions and considerations have taken place, the client will select their preferred candidate, offering them the job. During this phase, the executive search firm will act as a mediator between the hiring company and the candidate to ensure both parties' needs are met and that expectations from both sides are aligned early to ensure a smooth process.

  • Learn more! We’ve refined our executive search process to offer clients the most transparent and collaborative search yet. Click here to see the methods Carrot Executive use to find highly-talented candidates.

How to identify you need the help of an executive search firm?

To find the best talent, you need the help of an outstanding search firm, one that focuses on being your recruiting partner rather than just fitting you into the process. Below we explore a handful of reasons that pinpoint whether it’s time to call in the experts for your next senior hire.

Your search is incredibly important

Searches for talented and hard-to-find professionals are usually too important not to employ the services of an executive search firm.


You’re struggling to apply the time and energy

HR professionals often find they are experiencing a slow recruitment process and nothing discourages a potential candidate more than long, drawn-out hiring proceedings. You should consider bringing in an executive search firm when you don’t have the knowledge, time or resources to dedicate to such an important project.


You’re struggling to attract the right candidates

If the perfect candidate never appears, it might be a sign that you need to rethink your search approach. We often find that organisations are quick to get their job adverts online and overlook the most important aspect of how it appeals to potential candidates. Other common mistakes include vague job descriptions, using the wrong advertising platforms, and outlining salaries that undermine the candidate or are below the average market rate. 


Your business is about to lose a key member of the team 

Employees with rare skill sets are valuable to a company’s success. However, all employers dread the day when their key employees decide to leave. Not only can such a loss cause disruption, but it can also cripple productivity, affect profits and reduce confidence within your teams. A lack of planning for the potential loss of key people can be more costly than most business owners imagine.


You need a discreet hiring process

There are times when business decisions require you to replace a member of your team. Hiring a replacement must remain discreet and impartial. An executive search firm can help to ensure that professional standards are met by taking a sensitive and discreet approach to the sourcing of senior-level talent.


You’re not sure whom you are looking for

If you're experiencing growth, it might be time to expand your team or create a new specialist position. However, companies who still conduct their own recruitment processes often find themselves largely trying to figure out what they’re looking for, or what their job ads should say. With the expertise of an executive search firm, employers can draw on extensive research and analysis to better understand what talent exists in the market, and discover highly-skilled candidates that match up to their open roles.

  • Learn more! Still curious about how to identify when you'd need the support of an executive search firm? Click here to reveal nine signs you need help with executive search, plus the benefits of working with a firm such as Carrot Executive.


A final recap 

As you’ve reached the end of your read, you should now have a clearer understanding of what executive search is, how it works and how it ultimately helps organisations to attract, place and retain employees with specialist skills. To quickly recap, here are some key points to remember:

  • Executive search is a term used to describe the hiring of senior-level and hard-to-find talent. 
  • Hiring key professionals with rare skill sets is too important not to invest in. 
  • A good hire can propel a business forward, while a bad hire can often limit progress.
  • Executive search firms ensure your hiring is cost-effective and efficient, that the candidate chosen for the role has the necessary skills, and that their values match your own organisation’s culture.
  • Using an executive search method ensures you have a dedicated partner who will work diligently and persevere to find the right candidate for that key position.

To aid you in this process, we've created a free, must-have screening template to use when selecting your next executive search firm. 

Download screening template

Got a senior position to fill?

We can help with that. We specialise in executive search and use creative search methodologies to recruit high-calibre candidates from the widest possible talent pool. Get in touch today and find out how we can help you fill a range of executive vacancies at your organisation.

Martin Anderson

Martin began his career in Market Research and Business Intelligence with Adelphi International Research, before moving into Sales & Brand Management positions with the Biotech firm MerckSerono. Carrot was formed in 2006 to offer a knowledgeable and supportive service to consultancy and industry clients throughout the Pharma and Life Science industries, working across the product lifecycle.

Martin heads up our Executive Search and Insights business, working closely with clients to understand their strategic requirements around talent attraction and the generation of key insights to support their decision making across the business. Martin has a MSc in Marketing and Management, a BSc in Psychology, is an NLP master practitioner, ABPI qualified, and gained a distinction from the REC in recruitment accreditation. He is fully au fait with the MRS guidelines for conducting research.

Contact Martin Anderson: +44 (0)1625 541 032 / martin@carrotpharma.co.uk

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