An executive search firm is a professional services company (informally called a headhunter) that specialises in identifying, evaluating and appointing senior-level management, C-suite / executive talent, and board directors for client companies across industries. Some headhunters will also help organisations recruit interim executive talent where an unforeseen leadership gap suddenly emerges.
The work of executive search firms can sometimes be confused with the services of contingent recruitment agencies. However, there are key differences in scope, methodology, process, experience, success rate and more, which differentiate these into two entirely different professions. In short, retained executive search firms partner with organisations in relation to senior executive and board appointments through the delivery of methodical and research driven executive search programmes, ultimately leading to the hire of a successful candidate. Partnering with an executive search firm is not just a one-time transaction — it’s a long-term relationship.
Below are just some of the instances in which an organisation should consider partnering with an executive search firm:
• If an organisation is interested in placing the best of the best in an executive or board director role. Such a high-quality candidate would typically include those who aren’t actively looking for a new position.
• If a company wants to reduce the risk of a bad executive hire, which can cost thousands of euros and hours, as well as an impact on company morale, performance, productivity, and image.
• If an organisation is interested in conducting a confidential search.
• If a company has just created a new executive position and needs assistance defining the role and building a profile for the position.
• If an enterprise wants to access diverse and out-of-the-box candidates who can quickly drive change and innovation.
There are a small number of true retained executive search firms operating in Ireland today. These can broadly be described as follows:
1. the big accounting/audit firms who offer executive search services as part of their client advisory services, though these are far less prevalent that they once were;
2. the global executive search conglomerates (often termed the 'Shrek firms') who offer mass executive search transactional services;
3. the independent standalone consultants, typically individuals who have semi-retired or for other reasons operate on solo basis, and finally,
4. the independent global executive search firms who operate as part of an international network but who choose to maintain their own sovereignty i.e. Principal Connections - executive search.
Separately, it is worth noting that while many recruitment agencies in Ireland will also promote themselves as executive search firms or offering such services, more often than not, the service offered is that typical of a high street contingent recruitment agency who deal with junior to mid-level roles and candidates.
The length of an executive search process can take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks. The timeframe generally depends on many variables - scope, methodology, process, experience, and of course the commitment of the firm to delivery.
CEO & Board Report