Understanding the Difference Between Executive Search vs. Recruitment

The terms executive search and recruitment are often used interchangeably, even within the industry. They are, however, different in important ways. Put succinctly, recruitment is best suited to finding multiple entry and mid-level positions for common roles. Executive search is best applied to senior, specialized, unusual, or otherwise hard-to-find roles. Because of their different contexts and goals, recruiters and search executives go about their practices using different methods and pricing models.

What Does an Executive Search Firm Do?

Executive search firms exist to locate and secure unique and senior-level talent. Since those considered to be the best talent generally are not searching for work, a mass outreach strategy is often insufficient. To ensure a more effective process, executive search specialists focus on detailed research and active, targeted outreach. Making the case for a professional change that a candidate may not have been contemplating requires multiple touchpoints and conversations. Because of this intensive process, it’s common for executive search firms  to require a retainer in order to locate and properly assess candidates. While these firms are highly networked in a given sector, there is always an element of each search that is new—the talent. Finding new talent that fits the exact needs of an organization requires creative research and outreach, for which executive search firms, like OE, are especially suited.

What Does a Recruiter Do?

Since recruiters, in contrast, search for multiple, entry and mid-level roles for more common positions, the recruitment practice developed differently. The main difference? Recruiters work to locate job-seekers, and mass job postings are their main outreach tool. The lower fees that recruiters charge per candidate do not generally allow for a custom process, involving intensive research, targeted outreach, and multiple conversations, like the executive search process. Most recruiters are also working from a pre-existing database rather than a list of candidates found specifically for the organization. Finally, recruiters tend to work on a contingency basis, meaning you pay only when they have secured a candidate. That creates a high pressure, high speed, and highly templated process. While this has its appropriate uses, it differs greatly from executive recruiting.

How to Know Which Service You Need

Examine this at-a-glance guide to the differences between executive search vs. recruitment to help you to clarify which service you may need.

Executive SearchRecruiting
Senior-level or mission criticalEntry and mid-level
Nuanced or unusual rolesCommon roles
Smaller candidate poolLarge candidate pool
Most talented are not actively searchingHigh percentage are job seekers
Targeted postingsMass postings
Highly targeted research and outreachLittle direct outreach
Existing network plus new researchPre existing database
Partially retained (upfront fee)Fee contingent upon recruiter success
Time-bound guarantee if new hire departsNo guarantee 

Interested in Learning More?

At OE Consulting, people are our passion, and we welcome curiosity and questions from anyone wanting to learn more about executive search services. Our goal as consultants is to help our clients in every way we can. Since the consultant / client fit is essential to establishing healthy working relationships, if our group isn’t the best fit for you, we’ll let you know and will try to direct you to the right service for your organization. Connect with us to discover if we’re the right partner for you.

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