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Talent – the best in the market not on the market

Historically, employers use an executive search firm when an executive job opening is important enough and senior enough to warrant the investment

With a 74.6% employment rate, the highest since records began in 1971, its probably time for employers to rethink how they engage with the recruitment community…if they want to attract the best talent in their market.

Historically, employers use an executive search firm when an executive job opening is important enough and senior enough to warrant the investment.  I use the word “invest” for a reason.  A retained executive search may cost you a minimum of £10,000 and can cost £100,000 or more — typically one-third of a candidate’s first year total cash compensation.


But let us think more laterally about what is at stake here and my argument to use a professionally trained recruitment consultant more often than your generalist agency based recruiter who works on a success only basis. And I use the word ‘consultant’ as a differentiator with real meaning!

If the cost of not filling the vacancy in your company with the right candidate is significantly higher than the cost of the search, then you may be ready to consider investing in the services of a retained executive search firm.

And yes, I do not believe a retained search firm is right for every search every time. My team and I often brainstorm with senior executives about ways they can build their teams without incurring the expense of an executive search firm. You can get a lot of success with employee referrals, job postings, and LinkedIn, but last I checked, there is no service available where you can download a thoroughly vetted, interested and qualified A-player to meet the specific needs of your job opportunity.

Recruiting top performing executives or highly skilled employees who are in high demand is labour-intensive, complex, and requires a rare set of skills and expertise. That is why retained search firms exist. In fact, they are in such demand themselves currently that, despite the recent economic downturn, their average fee has increased.

Companies and hiring executives retain executive search firms for any one of very valid reasons. Certainly in today’s largely candidate led market, where the best in the market is not always ‘on the market’, there are strong arguments tobe more proactive in a talent search. Here are some reasons why you may benefit from an executive search approach:

  1. Good just is not good enough. You require a senior executive candidate who is truly great.
    If hiring top performing talent available is important to your company, a search firm can help you do the rigorous work required for game changing hires.
  2. The search is incredibly important at the senior executive level.  
    Searches for C-level positions that report into the Chief Executive Officer usually are too important not to go out to a retained search firm. Executives at that level can make or break a company. A retained search firm can mitigate the risk.
  3. You are seeking a candidate with a rare mix of skills. 
    If you have an important search in which you are seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack, a search firm can help you get it done.  Better executive search firms will deliver a slate of candidates with the right mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities along with the requisite cultural fit.
  4. You have a search for a senior executive position that you just created.
    When an executive search falls outside your area of expertise, an executive search firm can plug the knowledge gap with their domain know-how.
  5. You have to replace an under-performing executive while he is still in the role. 
    For companies that need to line up a replacement while the senior executive is still in the role, search firms offer a much-needed veil of secrecy.
  6. You have to recruit for target company with which your company has good relationships.
    If you need to recruit top executive talent from partner firms with which your company does business, the confidentiality that search firms offer helps avoid ruffling feathers.
  7. Your senior leadership team lacks diversity.
    Because not all backgrounds of candidates are well-represented at the senior executive levels, search firms can help level the playing field by conducting original research to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates.
  8. You lack internal bench strength and have few successors to your senior executives.
    If you sense a key executive might be on the verge of leaving or that you could benefit from top-grading, a succession bench help you tee up executive hires in advance of need.
  9. You do not have the time or resources to take on an executive search.
    If you already have too much to do and too little time, taking on an important executive search can quickly become its own full time job. That is what search firms do.
  10. You have tapped out your personal and company networks for candidate referrals.
    If you have exhausted your network of connections for possible referrals, it is time to access another network. Executive search consultants are among the most well-networked people in the business.
  11. You have an important executive search that is taking too long.
    Whenever a search takes to long, it is time to call in reinforcements to speed time-to-hire for challenging searches and those with compressed timelines.
  12. You want to give your company a strategic advantage through better hires.
    Retained search firms are in the business of delivering top performers — the 20% that are so effective they are responsible 80% of the results. Any time you have a senior executive search, it is an opportunity to trade up to a top performer and to drive results.

When you engage an executive search firm, you know you are paying for the years of trial, error, and success the firm has gone through to make its hiring process the best. Constant tweaking has resulted in highly-optimised techniques and tactics to provide its clients exactly what they want and need.

My sole endeavour after 25 years in the recruitment industry is to ensure that CNA International executive search is positioned to help businesses find the perfect professional, a professional that shares the same values, purpose, and business mindset to fit the culture of the clients that we are there to support.

Don’t settle for second best when attracting talent. Look at the ROI and make an informed business decision.

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