Understanding Executive Search Firms

executive search firms

Sometimes, finding the right board member can be a difficult process—especially for larger companies who are looking for a leader with a lot of experience.

Many of the most successful directors already serve on multiple boards, so it’s no easy feat to convince them to consider a new opportunity.

In other instances, organizations simply don’t have the internal resources or network necessary to find the best candidates—not to mention evaluate them. These are the moments when a board might consider utilizing the services of executive search firms.

Put simply, executive search firms are hired by an organization to seek out appropriate candidates, review their qualifications, and facilitate introductions. As Forbes writer Kathy Simmons explains, “Executive search involves in-depth research, private networking, exhaustive screening and a methodically thought-out selection process to gain a prosperous outcome for the hiring organization.”

In other words, it’s no easy task and requires a great deal of industry-specific knowledge, a large pool of contacts, and an awareness of constant shifts in the corporate governance landscape.

When contemplating hiring an executive search firm, companies can choose between two types: contingent and retained. Contingency firms are paid once they have successfully concluded the recruiting process. Retainer firms, on the other hand, are compensated for the duration of the search regardless of its results. The cost for an executive search firm’s assistance will vary, but it is definitely a high-end service.

Forbes regularly lists the top ten executive search firms in the United States; that list is currently topped by these five firms:

  1. Korn Ferry Executive Search – Los Angeles, CA
  2. Heidrick & Struggles – Chicago, IL
  3. Spencer Stuart – Chicago, IL
  4. Robert Half Executive Search – Menlo Park, CA
  5. Russell Reynolds Associates – New York City, NY

Most of these top firms provide a great deal of educational resources for board members and corporate leadership.

How do you know if your company needs to hire an executive search firm? If you don’t feel that your network of in-house contacts will provide you with a sizable pool of candidates, it might be time to call upon a search firm.

Additionally, if you feel that the recruiting process will drain your directors of valuable time, a search firm could be the right fit.

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