Executive Search: A Deconstructed Approach

6 mins

The business world is complex, competitive and ever-evolving, particularly as it becomes increasingly interconnected on a global scale. To ensure that organisations remain competitive, innovative, and successful, they need strong and talented senior leadership with the experience and expertise to guide them and drive their business strategies. To ensure they have the right talent in place, many businesses turn to Executive Search firms for expert support for building their leadership teams. 

Our insightful guide will first answer the most important question - what is Executive Search? We will discover what Executive Search is used for, its main benefits, and what the Executive Search process looks like. We then discuss why our alternative approach, Deconstructed Search™, provides a more transparent and value-added way to successful senior hiring.

What is Executive Search?

Executive Search is a specialised recruitment service dedicated to sourcing and recruiting highly qualified individuals for senior-level and executive positions across diverse sectors, including public and private organisations and non-profit entities. 

Unlike other recruitment methods, which rely on candidates actively seeking a new role applying directly for a job, Executive Search focuses on identifying individuals who possess the required skills and proactively and directly approaching them to try and garner interest in a role, regardless as to whether the individual is actively on the job market or not. Executive Search therefore is also known as headhunting. It is deliberate, strategic, and targeted, primarily concentrating on high-level leadership positions and in-demand and niche skills. Executive Search firms can play a pivotal role in this process, taking responsibility for translating the specific requirements of a given role and actively seeking out the most qualified candidates to fill those roles. 

The Executive Search process entails meticulous research, thorough candidate assessments, and a strategic decision-making process to ensure the recruitment of individuals with the right skills and expertise.

What is Executive Search Used for?

Vital Leadership Roles - Many businesses utilise Executive Search when filling key leadership positions, such as CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, other C-level positions and down into the senior management layer.

Niche or In Demand Skills - There are certain roles that require highly specialised skill sets that are rare or in high demand. Executive Search firms locate individuals with technical, industrial, or functional expertise that is crucial to a job's success.

Confidential Searches - When a company needs to remain confidential about a leadership change, Executive Search is a discrete method of identifying and attracting potential candidates without publicising the search.

Increasing Diversity - Executive Search is able to target under-represented groups for roles to ensure diversity at the very top of a business. 

Typical Questions that Executive Search can Answer

  • Who are the top candidates for a specific leadership role?

  • What is the current talent landscape for executive roles in a specific industry?

  • Which executives from industry competitors might be open to a move?

  • What is the availability of executive talent with specific technical or industry expertise?

  • Are there potential internal candidates for a leadership position?

  • What are the best practices for attracting diverse executive talent?

What are the challenges with traditional Executive Search?

Executive Search and Executive Search firms have been around for almost 100 years, and despite huge advances in technology and the birth of the in-house Executive Search function following the advent of LinkedIn and other professional social media networking sites, very little has changed in the world of traditional executive search. A common criticism of executive search firms is the overreliance on the ‘Black Book’. The Black Book refers to the old-school contact list or Rolodex, even of an individual search consultant. And so a common trap to fall into is the search consultant stays within their network and the same candidates begin to get recycled and only the ‘obvious’ talent is put forward. Equally, because at the most senior levels in particular, the talent is very visible - on company websites, on speaking platforms etc. Again, this can lead to ‘lazy’ headhunting methodology, where the lowest hanging fruit is put forward on a short list.

As well as meaning that businesses can miss out on a broad section of the entire talent space, fishing in the same pond over and over again, recycling candidate lists, can have a really detrimental impact on diversity.

Executive Search is expensive. Fees can range from 30-33% of base salary, but on occasions the search fee is 33% of the total package, and so can run into six-figure sums for a single hire. There is no doubt that the value that the best executive and leadership talent can bring to a company is worth paying for. But when the black book approach is overly relied on, companies are increasingly questioning the value executive search brings - particularly when a global company’s executive search bill can run into millions of dollars annually..

The Executive Search model is also rigid and is a one-size-fits-all. From brief to placement, the retainer fee is typically split into thirds - on commission, on shortlist and on placement. BUT there are often cancellation fees, so if a business’ circumstances change, meaning a change to the brief, an internal candidate surfaces or the role needs to be cancelled outright, the total fee is often due, regardless of whether a placement is made or not. There are good reasons for this in all fairness to the Search firm as they will have invested a lot of time and effort to get to shortlist and it can be very costly to them if searches are cancelled at a late stage.

And as businesses are increasingly looking to cut external executive search costs by building their own in-house executive search teams, it is not always necessary to commission a full search.

Our Deconstructed Search™ Process

At Armstrong Craven, flexibility goes beyond a sales pitch, and transparency is more than a mere commitment. 

Uniquely, we break down an executive search to deliver one or more of the distinct stages in a way that best fits a company’s needs and capacity. As we discussed, a traditional Search company charges a fee based on total package, payable in three parts with a cancellation clause built in. We believe fees should reflect the volume and value of our work at each stage and without the threat of cancellation payments. Therefore a client can commission only what they need and the approach can be altered if needs or situations change. We have called this new Framework Deconstructed Search™.

The same quality as traditional executive search but packaged, priced and delivered differently.

Stage 1: Talent Mapping

We meticulously map competitors and related organisations to develop a comprehensive overview of the whole talent landscape, including left-field talent, and talent that is not always immediately visible.

Stage 2: Talent Engagement

Actively engage prospective candidates in meaningful career conversations, exploring their current responsibilities, progression prospects, and, most importantly, their aspirations and ambitions. This in-depth understanding provides valuable insight into the target talent pool.

Stage 3: Shortlisting & Screening

Through a thorough assessment and interview process, each candidate is carefully evaluated and delves deep into career experiences, working styles, achievements, characteristics, and developmental milestones. This meticulous approach enables the strongest individuals who align with your company's unique needs and goals to be picked out.

The result of this stage? A final shortlist of professionals with the experience and capabilities to succeed in the role and possess the right cultural fit.

Stage 4: Candidate Management

Communication and coordination are key during this crucial and final phase. We facilitate clear and timely communication between candidates and clients. Our role is to ensure that all parties are well informed, address any concerns, and provide support throughout the offer process.

What are the Benefits of Using Executive Search?

Now that you understand what Executive Search is and what the Executive Search process looks like, we will next explore the main benefits that Executive Search can have for your business. 

Access to Quality Talent

Armstrong Craven has the research expertise to effectively and systematically tap into any talent population anywhere in the world, and the know how to engage this talent from a cold approach. This ensures that businesses can access and tap into the best candidates who possess the specific skills and experience required for any given leadership role.

Discreet and Confidential Searches

Armstrong Craven can execute searches with high confidentiality, a crucial aspect for organisations undergoing leadership changes or aiming to replace incumbent executives without causing disruption.

Worldwide Reach

We boast a global reach, enabling organisations to tap into a diverse and international talent pool. This is especially advantageous for companies with global operations or those seeking executives with international experience.

Thorough Candidate Assessment

Armstrong Craven conducts thorough assessments of potential candidates, encompassing in-depth interviews, skills evaluations, and reference checks. This ensures that the candidates presented are qualified on paper and align with the business's culture and leadership requirements.

Armstrong Craven can overcome your Talent Challenges

As a global Talent Research provider with more than three decades of experience in Executive Search, Armstrong Craven is prepared to be your strategic partner and an extension of your team. Through our research-based methodology, we possess the expertise to tackle these challenges and provide your business with the leaders it needs to unlock your organisation’s full potential.

Our Executive Search Success Stories 

Discover how our Executive Search service has supported global businesses to empower their talent strategies and drive future success.  

Executive Search for a Global Development Bank 

Explore how Armstrong Craven conducted an executive search across multiple cities across multiple contents to support the firm in finding an experienced professional with a niche skillset to fill a Senior Investment Officer role in Africa. 

Filling a Niche Role in a Global Development Bank with Dispora Talent | Armstrong Craven

Discover how Executive Search can Lead your Business to Success 

At Armstrong Craven, we understand the importance of effective leadership to the innovation and success of a business. Our Executive Search service is ready to support you in finding the leaders and skills you need to stay ahead of your competition and remain cutting-edge in your markets. Our expert team handles the whole process, from talent mapping to candidate management, ensuring we achieve exceptional results. 

Contact the Armstrong Craven team today for more details about how our Executive Search, Talent Mapping, Talent Insight, and Talent Pipelining.

Speak with an expert

If you want to learn a little more about what we do and how talent research can help you make better-informed business decisions, our team of talent research and consulting specialists are happy to help.