Your guide to executive search

Your guide to executive search


What’s in a name? Executive Search is one of those recruitment terms with many aliases. The difference between executive search, technical search, headhunting, retained search, and search and selection often seems wafer thin – and more often than not, people use the terms interchangeably.

As an increasingly popular model for hiring crucial senior hires in STEM, understanding what executive search means, and what it can do for your business, has never been more important. In this article we tell you everything you need to know about executive search in a nutshell.

And if you’re ready to learn more about hiring executive hires in the tech space, please check out our Search by Lorien service.

What’s the definition of executive search?

Executive search is about finding your future leaders and focuses on finding niche, senior-level talent typically at director level or above (e.g. C-suite, Partners or Heads).

Because the executive talent pool is smaller, typically passive and in high demand, it takes a very specific skillset to handle executive vacancies. Roles of this nature need to be managed by people with very strong networks, exceptional stakeholder management and confidence, and specific expertise – which is why executive search is different to many other forms of recruitment. 

Executive search is also very strategic and must be built around individual business requirements. An executive search service should include a consultation on the unique needs of the business, including not just skillset, but culture, values, aims, strategy, and future vision. And in exchange, you should receive real-time market intelligence, advice, and a detailed, tailored project plan for your requirements.

Executive search vs. retained search vs. headhunting

There are a lot of different terms associated with executive search which can make the process feel confusing. To make matters worse, sometimes those terms are combined – like executive retained search.

Executive search simply means the end-to-end hiring process, from brief to placement, contract or permanent, to find senior-level talent. Part of that process includes identifying and engaging with passive talent – also known as head hunting. Meanwhile, search and selection and technical search highlight the level of technical skill and energy required to perform executive search.

And what is retained search? That simply relates to the payment scheme. Executive search is typically split into a three-tier pricing structure: instruction and search initiation, acceptance of shortlist, and offer accepted. The team is paid up front (or given a ‘retainer’) for each part in exchange for exclusivity. Alternatively, sometimes a fixed fee will be agreed for a specific timeframe.

What’s the executive search process?

It all starts with a brief. During your consultation, the search lead will have an in-depth discussion to capture what you’re looking for. This will include:

  • Understanding your business structure and strategy and how the future hire fits into that
  • Required skillsets, background, and characteristics
  • Core business values, culture, and vision for the future
  • Your timeframes, expectations, and desired interview process

At Lorien, we know that the biggest challenge facing organisations making senior hires is finding not just good candidates, but the right candidates. That’s why taking time to get under the skin of your business is so important. Data and insight also play a significant part in shaping go-to-market strategy, and at Lorien our consultations also include real-time market intelligence.

After building a detailed understanding of your business, the search lead will put together a project plan with deliverables, expectations, and recommendations for the recruitment strategy. This might include additional support with hiring materials.

Then, the hunt begins. The search lead will research the market and high value individuals, reach out to connections and networks to uncover talent that may not be immediately visible, and use precision sourcing technology to make matches. This is considerable work, and often search leads are paid for their expertise of the market and ability to find candidates that might fly under the radar for less experienced teams.

Choosing an executive search model also means invaluable insight into market dynamics. Your lead should be able to consult you on market activity, and help you translate your EVP (employee value proposition) to the market to unearth the best talent for you. Finding talent is an expert job, but so too is understanding how to make predominantly passive, in-demand, talent sway. Search leads have the expertise to approach and build trust with elite candidates quickly and will help you represent the best of your brand to the community. All good search leads will interview candidates prior to submission, preferably face-to-face, to ensure a strong candidate fit.

If the consultant is confident in a match, they will then make a recommendation to your business. You should expect between three and five recommendations per vacancy. Depending on your pricing scheme (see above), your search lead may also support the interview and offer management process. A calm, confident hand will guide candidates through what can be a rigorous interview process at executive-level, helping to smooth processes and keep candidates engaged to minimise the risk of dropout. After offer acceptance, the search lead would typically hand over to your HR team for on-boarding (for permanent).

Why use executive search?

There are many reasons why you might choose executive search over other recruitment models. This includes:

  • Confidentiality. Making a senior appointment can be complex and, due to the role of strategy in many placements, sensitive. Choosing executive search will keep your requirements safe.
  • A better understanding of your market. Experts can help you pinpoint where you sit in the market, with real-time market intelligence and insight on everything from talent flow to competitor activity and rates.
  • Critical hires. Senior level talent sets the direction of a company, so making a hire can often be time sensitive. Dedicated search experts prioritise your roles.
  • Expertise. Put your trust in people who do nothing but executive search. With a limited candidate pool, and high demand, often there’s only one chance to approach candidates. Experts bring the insight, networks and approach needed for you to hire with confidence.
  • Precise candidate matches. Find long-term matches by reframing your search from skillsets alone to culture, structure, strategy, and vision. Your senior hires lead from the front, and often finding the right fit is harder than finding the talent.
  • Match your search to your goals. For example, if improving your diversity at board level is important, search can bring you balanced shortlists to find the best talent from every background.
  • A personal experience. Choose an experience that fits around your timescales, needs, and strategy. A high touch consultation and tailored project plan put you in control.

Search by Lorien

We pair tech-enabled businesses with the world-class executive talent of today, and the inspirational leaders of tomorrow. Our experience has taught us the characteristics and skills that it takes to drive success at a senior level for businesses of all shapes and sizes, all over the world. We’re agile to market shifts, aligned to customer need and embedded in executive tech circles – giving you access to vital skills at the highest level.

Our STEM focused search offering combines the technical expertise of Lorien (digital, technology and technical), SRG (science and clinical research) and Carbon60 (engineering). Specialising in your niche, we can help you to attract and retain the right talent with:

Executive Search Process 

Learn more about how we can help you here.

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