Stanton Chase
The Executive Search Process: How Do We Find the Right Talent for an Executive Role?

The Executive Search Process: How Do We Find the Right Talent for an Executive Role?

August 2023


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I often get calls from both clients and potential candidates asking how our services work. I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about our process.

In this article, I’ll answer some questions you should be asking if you’re thinking about hiring an executive search firm to support your company’s hiring needs.&

I’ll also share some terminology that is used in the search industry that seemingly never gets defined for clients.&

Who Do We Work For?

Sometimes we have potential candidates asking to hire our services. Let me clarify; candidates don’t pay us. As a retained search firm, we are paid by the organization doing the hiring. They engage our services to find and vet the perfect candidate for their new executive position.

If you are a candidate, don’t rely on search firms requiring you to pay for their services. Instead, leverage networking to your advantage; ensure your LinkedIn and CV are updated to reflect all your skills and work history.&

By networking with your current peers and maintaining an active online presence, you increase your chances of attracting the right people who will place you in your dream job.&

Retained vs. Contingent and Exclusivity

You’ll see these terms in many presentations from search firms, and the core difference is tied to payments.&

Retained firms enter into a contractual agreement to support an organization on a given search project, with defined payments throughout the course of the engagement.

Contingent firms are generally only paid if one of their candidates is hired. These firms are incentivized to provide a multitude of CVs as quickly as possible because they’re often non-exclusive—they are competing against other contingent firms to get their candidate into your company. This model works well for mid-tier and line positions where organizational fit is not as important.

A retained firm provides a more premier, personal service. Retained executive search firms often spend a good deal of time learning about your business, organizational issues, and opportunities, to ensure that the candidates presented are right for your organization.&

“A retained firm provides a more premier, personal service.”

Undoubtedly, the retained executive search model is more expensive and often takes longer, but for senior leaders where the risk of a bad hire is very high, it is worth the expense. These are usually exclusive searches. You’re hiring one search firm to be your partner in the work.& &

How We Work

When you’re talking to search firms, inquire about their process. The job of an executive search firm isn’t just to bring great talent, but to bring the right talent to your organization.&

If you’re searching for a Chief Financial Officer, for example, we see competitors who might present a set of CFO candidates at your first or second meeting. This might seem impressive at first, but it’s important to really scrutinize and ask, “Why these candidates? How will they fit within your organization and leadership team? What do they add culturally to the team?”

There is no guarantee that the candidates will be a cultural or skill match, and the search firm may have a lesser understanding of the organization, culture, and needs of your organization.

As a result, Stanton Chase begins every search by refining our knowledge of our client. We want to learn the values that drive the company, its organizational structure, what success looks like, and how the organization defines success.

Our team speaks with people across the organization to get a broad perspective of what is happening in the company and the expectations for the role being filled.&

Our consultants then use their new understanding and knowledge to frame the position around the needs and preferences of relevant parties. This provides us with the necessary information to identify and reach out to candidates who are culturally aligned with the company’s vision and will thrive in their new role.

With this perspective, we work with our client to develop an Ideal Leader Profile that contains the formal job description for the role and outlines the key outcomes that a candidate is expected to produce within their first year.

Armed with this knowledge, we begin the research and sourcing stages of the search process. We spend a lot of time on the phone (and on Teams, and on Zoom) talking to potential candidates about the opportunity.&

The goal of this stage is simple: find a diverse slate of candidates for consideration. We do not mine candidates from the same existing database repeatedly, as each search is specifically tailored to the organization’s needs.

A piece of advice: always respond to a recruiter! They are reaching out to you for a very specific reason. Even if the role isn’t the right fit or the timing is wrong for you, that conversation expands your network (and ours), and can lead to the perfect opportunity later.

Prospective candidates are evaluated and pre-qualified through several rounds of formal and informal conversations with multiple members of our team. These interviews help us ensure that we understand each candidate’s background, motivations, experience, and vision so that we can convey that information to the client.

Based on these hundreds of hours of interviews, we present a slate of candidates to the client. These presentations contain layers of analysis and background information which, coupled with a conversation with our team, help clients decide whom they should interview first.

During interviews, Stanton Chase helps prepare the client with potential questions, leadership assessments, and candidate scoring materials to ensure everyone gets the most out of these meetings.

One thing we often remind our clients is: at the senior level, these interviews are a two-way street. Candidates are interviewing the organizations as much as the other way around.&

As candidates work through the interview process, our role is to help facilitate a hiring decision, but also understand what barriers or motivators there are on each side of the negotiating table. We work with both the clients and candidates to negotiate an offer and help create a 100-day onboarding plan.

More of our clients are starting to use assessment tools in the hiring process as well. There can be significant benefit to this when used as part of a broader interview process, but I’ll save that for another article!

The Results

When looking for an executive search firm, it’s important to consider their specific process. A firm’s model will ultimately determine their relationship with your organization and the candidates they choose to present.

Our speed and success are the direct result of our structured methodology. Our consultants identify and present candidates with the requirements of our clients in mind, and we support both sides throughout the process.&

As a result, we know our candidates are a good fit for the organizations we place them with, and we can offer a one-year employment guarantee. We make our relationship with the client our number one priority.

“We make our relationship with the client our number one priority.”

Wow, that was a lot of information! If you’ve read this far, then I hope you found it informative! If we can help you in any way, please reach out and let us know using this link.

About the Author

Charles Nailen serves as a Managing Director at Stanton Chase Washington, D.C., specializing in the aerospace, technology, digital, and media sectors.&

Previously, Charles led several initiatives at Georgetown University, including branding, marketing and communications for the School of Foreign Service in Qatar.& Before joining Georgetown, Charles managed technical and web systems for the Washington Post, Newsweek, and

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