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Execuitve Search - Evaluating an Executive Search Agency
By William Chin
Selecting the right executive search firm is crucial to ensuring the client is receiving the highest attention
for a search. In an executive search, almost any of the top tier firms or boutique firms can do the job.
What makes the difference is the relationship you have with the recruiter, his/her reputation and ability
to get the job done is an efficient manner. Ensuring that the search firm is able to represent the client’s
interest is important for success.
Factors to Consider
Retained search are typically done for exeutive level and/or confidential searches.
Retained searches, unlike contingency, require upfront retainer fee. Typically, this is 1/3
upfront, 2nd payment upon presentation of the 1st batch of candidates, and final payment upon
hire of the final candidate. There is also typically additional charge for administration expenses
(telphone, fax, and courier) associated with the search.
o (Contingency is more suitable for professional (below C-Level) searches and fees are
paid upon hire.)
Make sure the search consultant have expertise in the field and are able to to complete the
search. Research the consultant’s background and review past searches for references.
Some searches can take longer then 6 months. Understand what the firm’s commitment to
completing a search even if it takes longer then expected.
Also consider the firm’s commitment to putting your search on the highest priorty. Understand
how your search is prioritized in relation to other clients they are serving. You should expect
and receive the highest level of attention.
Does the firm have the experience with the search profile you require?
o Consider the geographical, functional and market expertise.
o Ask for past searches as references.
Who are their past/current clients? Are there any hands-off limits and how might this impact
What is the candidate guarantee policy of the agency? What is the commitment if the
candidate hired does not work out as planned?
Can the search firm carry out a regional search effectively? Do they partner with other branch
offices? Do they have 1 P&L or separate country P&L?
What is the experience of the consultant?
o Does the person understand the role and its requirements?
o Can they describe the key candidate characteristics?
How many searches is the consultant working on at the moment?
o Too many concurrent searches mean less attention to your case.
o The consultant should not have more then between 4-6 searches.
Who is the search consultant assigned to your case?
o Typically, the senior consultant is the interface with the client.
o There is a team of junior researches making initial calls.
Ask the consultant to describe a typical search process. How well do they know the market?
Who/what are their sources of generating contacts? How many candidates do they approach?
What is the interview and candidate assessement procedure?
What is the frequency of search updates or progress reports?
What is their search completion rate? What are the root causes and how was issue resolved.
No consultant ever completes 100% cases assgined to them.
Review the fee agreement and ensure details are clearly understood.
What are the payment terms?
What expenses are included in the fees and what are additional chargeable expenses?
What is the candidate guarantee period? Get this clearly stated in the contract.
Talent/Market Mapping may be a good approach to give a client an overview of the talent
availability in a local market or industry.
Initiating a Search
Have we exhuasted all possibilities of identifying candiates before engaging in retained
executive search. (All internal candidates have been exhausted; expat assignments are not a
possibiliity; we do not have any industry contacts or referrals, etc).
Make sure the consultant is willing to spend many hours upfront working with the hiring
manager to thoroughly understand the candiadte requirements.
Are there “hands-off” lists (partner companies) that agencies can not target?