Characteristics of Successful Executive Search Companies

Choosing the right retained search firm for your critical hires is paramount. Here are key things to consider:

Operating Experience

When choosing an executive search company, look for a firm with a partner who has operating experience. This kind of client-side managing and hiring experience has a very positive impact on the outcome of an executive recruitment effort.

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Driving the Process

The search firm you select should have a consistent, proven process to finding the right candidate, and a reputation for diligently driving you through this process. When finding a new executive, many members of the management team usually take part in the recruitment effort. An ideal search firm will manage you and your team through meetings and scheduling requirements to stay focused and achieve the desired end result: an executive who can do the job, is excited about the company, and can work closely and successfully with the team that's already in place.

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Few to No "Hands-off" Accounts

All retained search firms have a "hands off" policy - one that inhibits the firm from recruiting executives from other clients within the firm. But when the right opportunity is available, limiting the pool of potential executives is simply not acceptable. When screening a retained search firm, ask them which companies are on their "hands off" list before you start an engagement.

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Principals, Not Associates

Hire an executive search company in which partners, not associates, do the search. Large, international executive search firms have partners working on 7 to 10 projects at one time, meaning that junior personnel are actually doing most of the work. To get effective and timely results, a partner should work on your account.

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Reasonable Project Load

The most effective executive search firms are those in which each partner is handling no more than 3 to 4 searches at a time.

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Full Discovery Up Front

A high quality executive search firm will take the time to understand your industry and your company. The firm will work with you and your executive team to describe the key capabilities that an executive needs to bring to the new job, as well as be able to effectively articulate and sell your position.

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Communication and then more Communication

The best executive search firms will communicate with you, at minimum, on a weekly basis. During these calls an update is provided on the results of all recruiting efforts to date, and any issues that might impact the project are identified and discussed.

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Transparency in Fees and Other Costs

If an executive search firm is not forthcoming about their fees and costs, look elsewhere. A typical retained executive search costs one-third of the total compensation for the executive's first year. Some executive search companies charge a fixed percentage of the fee to cover additional costs. These indirect expenses are separate from the direct expense of running the search (such as flying candidates to interviews and putting them up in hotels if necessary). A reputable, experienced executive search firm will discuss these expenses up front.

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