When To Use An Executive Search Firm

When a company is looking to hire a senior executive, they have two basic options. The first option is to use their in-house talent acquisition or recruiting team. The second option is to engage with an external executive search firm. Most companies have in-house recruiters or talent acquisition teams that hire hundreds of people every year and may think that one more executive hire is an easy task. But let’s examine the differences between using both.

Inbound Versus Outbound Recruiting

Since in-house talent acquisition teams are set up to process a large volume of resumes and job applications and quickly screen and sort them, their recruitment process is more inbound than outbound. Executive search and executive recruiting is primarily an outbound process. A proactive outbound process makes a big difference in the quality of candidates due to the time commitment and the day-to-day activities of the recruitment process. Instead of receiving and shuffling through resumes, executive recruiters and search firms uncover the best candidates by actively searching through their networks, contacts, and other sources to build a list of qualified, interested, and available talent.

Expansive Personal Networks

In theory, it doesn’t make much sense for in-house recruiters to build a personal network of all the possible candidates for their company when they don’t specifically recruit for that role regularly. They would have to do the same for every other executive role at their company, and the company would not benefit from their work because it would be used once. In-house talent acquisition teams likely do not have an expansive personal network to uncover passive talent, executives that are not actively looking or applying for new roles. The in-house talent acquisition teams do not have the skills to properly engage with the senior executive talent to represent a company and the opportunity. An executive search firm already has established relationships with these candidates. It can expand its reach across different industries, verticals, and regions more than in-house recruiters can. Working with a reputable executive search firm means that a candidate will pick up the phone and answer when they call.

Avoid A Mis-hire

In-house talent acquisition teams are incredibly efficient and skilled at making quick hires and assessing talent for junior- and mid-level roles. For these more junior-level roles, recruiters look primarily to match the experience and skillsets required for the position. If a hired candidate does not work out at this level, the damage to the team and company is minimal. When making a senior executive hire, there is genuinely only one opportunity to find and appoint the best candidate, the first time. If the wrong candidate is hired and assigned to the role, this can result in lost costs, resources, time and cause catastrophic damage across the organization. Executive search firms rely heavily on their reputation and cannot afford to appoint or mis-hire the wrong candidate for a search.


Another significant issue with trying to conduct an executive-level search using an in-house recruitment team is confidentiality. Hiring an executive leader is a very sensitive matter and needs to be handled discreetly. A company might not want to internally broadcast that they are making changes at the executive level until that change happens. An external search firm can help keep an executive-level search confidential. Since a search firm is a vetted external partner, all communications, status updates, interviews, and more can be handled directly between the search firm and a tiny group of stakeholders involved in the process – reducing any sort of exposure or informational leaks.


For huge companies, there may be a separate in-house or corporate executive-level recruiting team. These teams operate in a dramatically different way than typical in-house recruiting teams and staffing departments. They more closely resemble an executive search firm, except they have a single client – the company. In some cases, in-house executive search teams will still seek out the advice of an external search firm. They may not have a good network for a particular type of executive role they are trying to fill, or they may simply be at capacity.

Different Types Of Search Firms

Seeking outside help when staffing for junior to mid-level roles is a reality for many companies. A company may already be contracting with a staffing agency or firm to fill many positions and may easily assume this staffing firm can handle an executive-level search. These staffing agencies often operate under a contingency model – where they are paid upon placement. You can learn more about the differences between contingency and retained executive search here. Still, a contingency search firm typically focuses on placing a candidate as fast as possible within 2-3 weeks. On the other hand, retained search firms focus on finding the best-fit candidate and spend time researching and assessing passive talent to pursue. A retained executive search will typically take a little longer (4-7 weeks) to find and present the best candidates, but these candidates’ quality is generally much higher.

An external search firm serves as a consultative partner and trusted advisor who can correctly identify and reach passive talent and advise the best strategy and approach. An external search firm has conducted hundreds of similar searches for senior executive talent in the past and has the expertise to execute efficiently and deliver results. Working to find the best possible candidate requires a more personalized and consultative process. Due to this fact, retained search firms are paid throughout the engagement (on a retainer) because this type of arrangement results in a more collaborative relationship. A retained search also enhances the process between search firm, company, and candidate.

Simply put, an executive-level hire is a much more intense, delicate, and hands-on process than typical recruiting efforts. The process demands engaging talent with purposeful outreach and providing a positive candidate experience from start to finish – all of which an executive search firm has years of experience cultivating.

Senior executives are key hires to your leadership team and your company. They have a significant impact on the future of your company and a controlling stake in that future. A miss-step by hiring the wrong executive can have large consequences and set the company back in many ways. This risk makes finding the right candidate critical, and partnering with a search firm will yield the best-fit candidates and talent than most other options.

With over 30 years of invaluable experience, Chapel Hill Solutions stands as seasoned entrepreneurs in the realm of business solutions. From small startups to sprawling enterprise organizations, we cater to a diverse clientele, understanding the unique needs and challenges each entity faces. Contact us today to see how we can assist you in your employment needs: Let’s Talk

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