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What Is an Executive Search Firm and how does it operate?

What Is an Executive Search Firm and how does it operate?

Written by Staff Writer

July 12, 2021

By Vanessa Rogers of TextBOX Conceptual


Executive search involves seeking out and drawing in the top individuals within the market to take up a senior-level position at a particular company. While this may sound seamless, it is important to note that the most skilled talent in a particular industry is not necessarily looking to make a move. In the piece below, we analyse the expertise and discretion involved in this particular level of executive hiring.


Senior networking 

A key aspect in the executive search role is the senior networks such firms have in place – often related to the work they do across a range of different sectors. Additionally, such firms need to know how to go about engaging, in a professional manner, with their senior candidates – something which those racking up CVs or operating internally within a company’s own HR division may not have the experience to tackle.

During this process, it’s worth noting that executive search firms are employed to sell on and manage the expectations of a senior position, over a period of between four and six weeks, in what could prove a crucial life decision for the candidates involved. Of course, the most suitable candidate for such a position may not be looking to make a move at all. But, on the other hand, once an executive recruiter has leveraged their network and secured the best individual, it can prove highly desirable for them to realise they have been headhunted.


Power of negotiation

An executive search firm is also likely to need to go back to their corporate client to negotiate on value, remuneration and perks for the desired candidate/s – such individuals may have specific causes they are fighting for, over and above a generous pay package, WFH and Wi-Fi perks, medical aid, pension, etc., which is probably all on offer within their current role/s.

Because what’s at stake is sky high, a corporate client hoping to partner with an executive search firm has to be sure they will be able to deliver; which is certainly where experience comes into the mix. If you’re an executive search start-up, you’ll have to prove yourself by hitting the ground running from the outset, while a firm with 25 years plus of experience should serve to reassure clients that they can – and always do – accomplish what you are paying them handsomely to achieve.

So what benefits can an astute executive search firm offer up to their clients? Jeremy Bossenger, director at BossJansen Executive Search,  weighs in on this point. “We work in a standardised and highly structured way, to map markets and actively headhunt candidates from similar businesses or industries who have the pedigree, skills and ideal track record to be successful in the specific role we are working on. Culture fit is also a key to getting it right. We sell the role to candidates who are generally happily employed, and are tasked with coaxing such individuals out of their current roles.”

“The best senior talent tends to be happily employed and their skills are not sitting around on any database,” he advises. “We are therefore hired to source for critical or key skill sets, in a retained fashion, and to uncover talent at the most senior level. This is the reason our fees are between 20 and 33 percent of a senior candidates’ monthly salary – we deliver a shortlist of four or five candidates in four to six weeks, once the role has opened up for applicants.”


Go big or go home

For those companies looking to secure a hot-shot senior-level executive, and who have been relying on their internal HR team and/or a contingent agency, it may be time to up your game and employ the big guns.

“What is a huge benefit,” advises Bossenger, “is that we follow a structured search process in the quest to identify and headhunt all the passive candidates in the market who would suit a particular role. The client always gets the best hire, even though we never advertise the role. Instead, we make use of proven search methodologies, such as mapping markets, to source the ‘best in market’ candidates.”

Another pro is the way in which an executive search firm is able to act as a brand ambassador for their corporate client, whom they are unlikely to partner with lightly. “We’ve remained a boutique firm,” advises Bossenger, “so as to keep focused, at all times, on what we do best – headhunting and attracting top senior talent for our clients. We do this by knowing where to look, understanding people – both in general and within the workplace – and building personable yet lasting relationships.”



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