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Ten questions to ask before using executive search


Retained executive search refers to an upfront fee paid to a recruitment firm to fulfil an executive or senior executive position. Typically, retained searches tend to be for positions that pay higher salaries and where the role warrants the investment and a more thorough approach to secure the best candidates. A retained executive search will likely cost a minimum fee of £10,000 and can cost a lot more, so how do you know if you need to enlist the help of a retained executive search firm? Here are ten questions you should be asking yourself.

1. Is the role critical to business performance?

If the cost of not filling the role 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. Take a senior Sales role for example. If you have lost and need to replace your top performer who was contributing significant revenue, then all the time that role is unfilled, you are losing a lot more than the cost to find a replacement. The targeted approach taken by retained executive search often means a role is filled quickly and at a lower risk because a lot of consideration has been put into finding a candidate who is a right fit for the business and who is often headhunted from a competitor or a related business where they are already excelling.

2. Are you lacking the skills and expertise to find the best talent?

Finding suitable candidates for senior level positions isn’t usually as straight forward as posting a job advert and waiting for the responses to flood in. You need a more proactive approach, a list of businesses to target and a network of professionals from within your industry, which brings us to question 3.

3. Do you have access to a significant network of industry professionals?

If you don’t have access to other professionals in your industry, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find and persuade the right person to come and work for you. Candidates working for your competitors are more likely to speak to a third party recruiter calling on your behalf than they are to you directly. By using and executive search partner, it also means the search can be kept confidential, which if you are searching for an MD with experience in a niche industry, can be crucial.

4. Do you have the time and resources to put into a thorough search?

Finding great people is difficult. It isn’t just a case of pushing an advert out to job boards and hoping you get the right kind of responses. If you’re looking for someone with experience in your industry, then that can mean approaching competitors’ employees. Would you feel comfortable doing that? The best people are happy, employed and rarely on the jobs market. That means that the only way to find them is through a targeted headhunt which is extremely time consuming. An executive search company can typically interview or talk with around 40 candidates before providing you with a filtered short list. Imagine if each of those conversations takes 1 hour, that’s 40 hours you need to find on top of doing your day job. If you have a HR department, it is unlikely they will have 40 hours to spare for each role you are currently recruiting as well as dealing with internal employee matters.

5. Are you confident that you can find and persuade the top performing candidates to join your business?

Today’s jobs market is candidate led. That means that the best candidates are in demand and can be choosy about where they work. It isn’t just down to salary and remuneration any more. The top consideration for many people, and particularly amongst millennials, is the company culture, reputation and approach to philanthropy. It is often difficult, even if you feel you have all of those things nailed, to effectively communicate them to a candidate. A good executive search firm will have taken the time to understand what is driving a candidate and will match their aspirations with that of your business, as well as helping with salary negotiations.

6. Is your search particularly complex?

We often speak with clients who have been looking to fill a role for some time without any luck. The problem is that their list of requirements is so long and specific that even the most thorough search may not find a candidate who ticks every box. An executive search firm’s job is to educate you on the skills that available in the market and to help you think outside of the box about what skills you really need. If the firm also specialises in your industry, then that’s an added bonus, because they will have a network of candidates at their fingertips who are more likely to meet your requirements.

With a complex sales process, GEA is constantly on the lookout for skilled and experienced sales professionals to fill high responsibility sales roles. Newman Stewart has been able to fill 5 key roles for GEA within the last year.

The quality of candidates was high calibre and exceeded my expectations. The rigorous screening process Newman Stewart undertook on our behalf meant we could be picky and ensure the right people were sourced. It also saved us a lot of time not having to manage recruitment logistics.

Head of Beverage, Food, Dairy Sales, GEA


7. Do you have the tools to assess capabilities?

Recruiters paw over hundreds of CVs every day and can quickly sort the wheat from the chaff. They also have a number of tools at their fingertips to help with every part of the process, from talent mapping, to salary benchmarking and psychometric testing. If you are looking for candidates who are above average performers, then access to these tools can be a great way to find them and to provide piece of mind in your hiring decisions.

8. Can you guarantee a successful outcome if you go it alone?

You may have read all of this and be thinking this isn’t anything you can’t do in-house. That may be so, but are you as likely to find the best candidates in-house and are you confident enough to risk hiring the wrong candidate? Remember, the talent pool is shrinking all the time, and the cost to the business of making a bad hire can be huge. A poor hire at mid Manager level with a salary of £42,000 can end up costing a business £132, 015. Take a look at this REC report into the cost of getting it wrong.

9. Are you hiring the same types of candidates to your leadership team time after time?

A correlation has been proved between diverse leadership teams and improved performance. Take a look at this study by McKinsey. Executive search firms can help here by bringing a completely fresh approach to your hiring strategy and can provide advice on the best approach, and the right package to attract a more diverse range of candidates.

10. Can you show evidence that your current recruitment strategy is working?

If you are currently spending too much time trying and failing to find the right level of candidates for your vacancies, it could be time to transform your recruitment strategy. Executive search firms will offer advice throughout the process, work to your deadlines and offer a guarantee if for any reason the chosen candidate doesn’t work out.

The REC recently reported in their Jobs Outlook for April 2018 that half (50%) of employers consider membership of a trade organisation important when choosing a recruitment agency. The REC and APSCo thoroughly vet their members to ensure they follow best practices and meet their rigorous codes of conduct, so choosing an executive search firm who meets these standards should give you peace of mind.


In conclusion, there are many factors to consider when deciding if you should pay an upfront fee to an executive search specialist, and in reality, the best way forward is to try it. If done right, you should be able to prove some form of ROI. If the average percentage of improvement in the performance of your new hire when compared to the baseline performance of the average replaced worker in the same job family has increased, then you’ll be delivering ROI to your business. Whenever the recruiting process is effective enough to hire an innovator, obviously this productivity improvement will be dramatically higher, and the chances of finding an innovator are significantly increased through executive search. Performance improvements will be further multiplied if the employee is retained for a longer period of time, again, something that is more likely through use of a third party.

If you think Newman Stewart could help with your current or future hiring needs, give us a call for an introductory, no obligation discussion on 01937 541395.



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