Executive Search vs Recruitment Agencies – what’s the difference?

Executive Search vs Recruitment Agencies – what’s the difference?

According to the latest data, the UK recruitment sector contributes £35.9bn to the UK economy.

Of that, in 2022, only £1.7bn is from executive search services.

What’s the difference between an executive search firm and a recruitment agency?

This is a question we are often asked when discussing our services with potential clients who haven’t used a retained executive search firm before.

Many people have worked with recruitment agencies in the past and know that a recruitment agency does not have the skillset to fill a tricky senior management vacancy and are exploring what an exec search firm can offer.

But despite the fact that executive search makes up just 5% of the UK recruitment market, executive search and contingent recruiting are often labelled as the same thing, when in reality, they are two entirely different services.

Contingent recruitment agencies are hired to present a list of active job seeking applicants to their clients. At any one time, only 5% of the potential candidate pool for executive roles are actively looking.

That leaves 95% of the market that are not being targeted by using a Recruitment Consultant.

That’s where Executive Search consultants come in.

An Executive Search involves extensively mapping out the market according to a detailed client brief and uncovering every single potential person that fits that brief – whether they are actively looking or not.

From there, our consultants reach out to these potential candidates by a variety of methods until we discover if they are suitable for the role and if they would be interested. Our teams will use every method at their disposal and have an 91% response rate from the potential candidates they are approaching.

We assess candidates via our own internal interview process, personality profiling if you require it, and measure against key competencies so that you are presented with a simple, yet comprehensive shortlist report. Usually made up of 5 or 6 candidates who we recommend for interview.

So when is the right time for you to engage an executive search firm?

1. Seniority

Executive search is most commonly used for senior executive roles, as most firms do not have the internal resources to recruit senior positions outside their network. An executive search firm with relationships across the industry will have the ability to reach out to the very best talent in the market.

2. Particularly difficult roles

Roles that require a very specific skillset can be problematic to fill. Even the most experienced hiring managers with extensive networks can struggle to fill niche vacancies. Occasionally you just won’t have the right contacts in the marketplace to extensively search for high-level talent.

3. Confidentiality

If you are replacing a key director and don’t want word to get out, you need to be extremely sensitive when approaching candidates.

In this case it can be beneficial to distance yourself from the search by using a third party.

Executive search firms can access candidates without revealing any sensitive company information. On many occasions we have asked candidates to sign non-disclosure agreements before imparting any information about the client. In some rare cases, we have conducted an entire search without discussing the company name at all until the candidates were chosen for interview.

4. Targeting competitors

The transport and infrastructure industries are pretty tight knit and the chances are when you are searching for the best talent, you will be looking to recruit from your competitors.

Receiving an application for a role from someone at your number one competitor is one thing, but actively poaching them can create friction. Especially if the person you targeted isn’t interested in making a move.

Having an intermediary to make the approaches removes this sensitivity.

5. Urgent timescales

Conducting a search for high-level positions is very time consuming. If you want to find the best person for the job then a thorough search needs to be conducted and it needs to be done well. While your internal recruiting or HR function may be pressed with various priorities, your executive search partner has been retained to fill a specific role within timescales agreed by you.

For many roles, your in-house recruitment team or contingent recruitment agencies are more than capable of sourcing candidates. Occasionally, you may find you have a key senior executive position that requires a more in-depth approach and someone who can go the extra mile to fill it.

You can find out more about our services here.

If you would like to find out more information or if you would be interested in taking a look at our e-brochure, please do get in touch and I will send you over a tailored information pack for your business.

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director