Executive search, otherwise known as headhunting or search and selection, is a specialised form of recruitment used to identify, qualify and shortlist A-players for senior-level or specialist roles. Executive search firms may specialise in a specific sector, for example, the life sciences, or work across multiple sectors with a focus on a particular function, for example, Internet Technology (IT). Some work across multiple industries and functions.
The executive search industry is highly regarded for its meticulous and proactive approach to candidate search and selection, identifying, qualifying and shortlisting both active and passive talent in its quest to attract leading executive and senior management talent to an organisation.
Why use executive search firms?
Talent is the lifeblood of business. Every product you make, every solution you deliver, is the result of the decisions, planning, due diligence and hard graft of your team. However, while every member is integral to the operation of your business, it is your senior team who are the defining factor.
Finding and securing top talent can give you a competitive edge. The right hire can transform a business; growing the bottom line and developing strategies to ensure its sustainable, perpetual growth. However, a bad hire, especially at the C-suite level, can jeopardise the future of your organisation.
Whatever your industry, hiring and retaining the best talent should be at the forefront of your agenda. Trouble is, the very best talent – the nighty percentile – are in high demand. The majority of A-players are full-time employed. Of those, only fifteen per cent are even contemplating a career change. That’s why organisations turn to executive search firms like Fraser Dove International to ensure favourable hiring outcomes.
What roles do executive search firms fill?
While exacting job titles and levelling – the roles fit within the organisational hierarchy – vary with industry and discipline, executive search firms traditionally source candidates from Management through to CEO, with the majority of placements at Senior Management to VP-level and above:
- Owner/Partner – individuals with full or partial operational control.
- CEO – highest managerial-level position within an organisation.
- VP – executive management, typically a head of a business function.
- Senior – individual with direct reports and leadership responsibilities.
- Manager – individuals with direct reports and some level of influence.
While many of the positions will be full-time permanent roles, some executive search firms also fill interim management (senior contractors) positions.
What is the executive search process?
The executive search process begins when a client retains an executive search firm on a senior or specialist business-critical hire. There could be a number of reasons which have lead the client to appoint an executive search firm rather than attempt to deliver the search in-house or use the services of a traditional recruitment agency. These factors include the following scenarios:
- The client does not have the internal resources and skills in-house.
- The client needs to turn around a search and make a hire quickly.
- The client wishes to poach top talent from their competitors.
- The client has a confidential search to be executed in confidence.
- The client has failed to find the right calibre candidate(s) themselves.
While the particulars of the search – geography, industries, disciplines, levelling, confidentiality, timeframe – can be tailored to suit a client’s requirements, the search process itself remains relatively steadfast. It consists of a series of stages, with key deliverables and milestones – candidate shortlisting, candidate interview and job offer – along the way. The six steps are detailed here:
1) Discovery & Define
The discovery process serves two purposes: 1) to establish the skills, experience and competencies essential for success and 2) to define the client’s market offering, their mission and values.
This ensures the executive search firm can qualify candidates for both technical fit – the extent to which a candidates strengths, needs and experience match the job specification – and cultural fit – the extent to which a candidate’s values, beliefs, outlook and conduct align with the client’s organisation. Both are prerequisites for the successful onboarding and retention of senior-level hires.
2) Search & Identify
With the situation and requirements clearly established, the next phase is to analyse of the market – talent mapping – to identify the calibre of candidates available and the industries and locations where they reside. Talent mapping serves to reduces lead times, ensuring the geographic scope is sufficient in size to headhunt a-players while generating insight into how best to approach them.
Talent mapping complete, the executive search firm will approach potential candidates on behalf of the client. The majority of candidates will have been identified as a direct result of the talent mapping exercise, though some will already be known to the executive search firm through their extensive industry networks and others may be sourced through targetted advertising campaigns.
3) Qualify & Access
The approach aims to establish whether there is sufficient interest in the role and prescreen candidates based on the minimum requirements – e.g. whether they have a visa to work in the country. Providing candidates are interested and sufficiently qualified for the position, comprehensive qualification assessment including competency and technical based questioning designed to match a candidate’s skills, experience and competencies against the job specification will follow. Depending on geographies involved, candidates and consultants might meet in person.
4) Select & Shortlist
Following qualification, those candidates who skills, experience and values best match the job specification are presented to the client for consideration, together with their CV and any supporting information that can assist the client in their selection. The executive search firm will liaise with the client, clarifying any points raised and feeding back information in a timely manner.
5) Guide & Influence
Candidates successful at shortlisting will enter the interview phase. It is in the best interest of the executive search firm to diligently brief and prepare their candidates ahead of interview, giving them the best possible chance of success. Depending on the level of service provided, some executive search firms will manage the entire candidate-side interview process on behalf of the clients, from scheduling interviews and travel arrangments through to post-interview feedback. Others will merely brief, prepare and debrief candidates on an interview by interview basis.
6) Close & Feedback
The final milestone in the search process, the successful candidate(s) will be made a job offer providing their background and reference checks give the green light. Any a-player in their industry worth their salt will be made a counter-offer, so many executive search firms provide full offer management to include the handling of counter offers and the provision of post-offer support.
Following the successful conclusion, some executive search firms will we seek feedback on the hiring process from all candidates who interviewed with their client. This information is fed back to key stakeholders, enabling their client to hone their hiring process and alerting them to potential issues which could adversely affect the candidate experience and impact employer brand.
How do executive search firms get paid?
The majority of executive search firms operate on a retained basis, requiring the client pays an upfront fee – typically thirty-three-per-cent of the fee – prior to the commencement of the search. This reflects the considerable work undertaken to market map, identify, qualify and shortlist candidates and differentiates executive search firms from contingent-based recruitment firms.
On the successful placement of a candidate — usually at the point of contract sign — the client is billed the remaining fee. This could be 30% or more of the candidate’s annual salary depending on the nature and scope of the search. If a client decides not to interview any of the shortlisted candidates or cancels the search in its entirety, some executive search firms will charge a client for the cost of delivering another shortlist, or a cancellation fee. However, the best executive search firms will waver both, prioritising client relationships over short-term financial gain.
Client relationships are key to a successful search. Executive Search firms operating a retained model function as an extension of a client’s in-hours talent acquisition or HR teams. They take the time to understand the client’s business model, its values and challenges, alongside the particulars of the hire. Not only does this ensure that shortlisted candidates are a good fit for the role and the organisation’s culture – essential for retention – but it ensures consultants can paint an organisation in the best possible light when pitching to high-calibre senior candidates.
For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers, TA and HR professionals working in the life science industry…
- Read Active Vs Passive Candidates: What’s The Difference?
- View our executive search solutions to see how we can help you grow your team and your business.
* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.
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Our FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) contain answers to the most common questions our clients and candidates ask our consultants about executive search. Should you have any specific questions that we have not yet answered, please contact us using the form below or call us on +44 (0)203 355 7050. We endeavour to respond to all enquiries within 1 business day.