Executive Search or Recruitment Firms: What is the Difference?

executive search or recruitment firms

If you don’t know the difference between executive search and recruitment firms, you are not alone. Both terms are often used, even by people working within the recruitment industry. However, while executive search firms and recruiters share the same goal – finding the right person for a specific role – there are slight differences in their business model and methodology. Businesses should have a strong understanding of these differences to decide which one will provide the best results for their next search. In this blog, we examine those differences.

What Is an Executive Search?

In simple terms, executive search is a specialized recruitment service that focuses on sourcing and onboarding hard-to-find talent (usually more senior appointments from a Director to COOs and VPs) for clients’ companies.

Because the primary task is to find top talent at the leadership level or within a niche sector (those with the credentials and capabilities to drive business growth) where candidates are scarce, executive search is one of the most sought-after recruitment models.

Unlike other forms of recruitment, like a contingency search, executive search teams take a strategic approach and actively seek out senior-level candidates for roles that are usually difficult to fill and strategically important.

How Are Recruitment Firms Different from Executive Search Firms?

Like executive search firms, recruitment firms help find and match candidates for a given role. They also work directly with companies to fill open positions within that company, pre-screen candidates and facilitate the interviewing process. Likewise, they are a third-party agency with no direct connection with any company.

Whereas executive search and recruiting agencies may seem to offer similar services, there are clear differences that you should be aware of. Understanding these differences will help you select the right firm to fill job vacancies.

How To Choose Between a Recruitment Firm and An Executive Search Firm

The differences in the above table can assist you in deciding the best solution for the type of role you need to fill. However, there are no rules as to which is the best way to go as it comes down to what position needs to be filled.

Generally, recruiting agencies fill non-executive roles, typically focusing on quantity of openings. And due to the unspecialized nature of the jobs they fill, they often encourage candidates not selected for one position to apply for another.

Recruiting agencies may also be the right choice to fill junior and non-executive roles as they have a broader reach to find candidates. In addition, they can provide you with an extensive list of potential candidates for the job. However, this can create difficulty in selecting the best candidates.

The onus will lie on the hiring manager, who may need to pick qualified candidates for the post from a pool of potential employees.

Alternately, suppose you need to fill a critical executive position. In that case, the right choice is to work with an executive search agency that offers a limited but highly qualified pool of candidates. There is less risk of choosing the wrong candidate for a specific role when you hire an executive search company. An executive search company is also your best choice if you need a candidate with a precise cultural fit, exact skill set, or outstanding performance history.

Searching for an executive can be resource-intensive, resulting in longer timeframes and higher costs. Typically, the executive searcher will delve into the details of the role, the company culture and the skills needed, which helps them create a candidate persona.

They will use this candidate persona to find and target eligible active and passive candidates. This process could involve extensive online searches, networking, and influence. A passive senior candidate is potentially at the top of their game, and it is not easy to persuade them to change their position, industry, thinking and direction. The process of executive search effectively disrupts plans, and it takes expertise to cultivate a passive candidate through a process from initial curiosity to starting a new role.

As such, an executive search is best suited to senior positions, hard-to-recruit skills, and strategic hires.

Whatever your decision, make sure you understand the differences between the two before choosing one to hire new candidates. Before signing any contracts, you should also be well informed about the procedure and fees.

ALIGN Executive Search is a specialist executive search firm focusing on headhunting for senior, executive and board-level positions across a wide range of industries.

If you’re uncertain which approach is best to fill your next job vacancy, or you would like to know more about the differences between executive search and recruitment, ALIGN Executive Search can help.

Get in touch today to find out more.

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