Stanton Chase
How Different are Recruiting and Executive Search?

How Different are Recruiting and Executive Search?

September 2023


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The age-old dilemma of executive search vs. conventional recruitment is a tale as old as hiring itself.

You find yourself in need of a key hire, so you turn to Google and type, “the world’s best headhunters.” It presents you with two pages: one from an executive search firm and another from a recruitment agency. Now, you’re confused—what sets them apart, and don’t they essentially perform the same function? The answer is no. 

Before you reach out to any firms or agencies, ink any contracts, or set your future plans in motion, it’s important to understand the difference between executive search and conventional recruitment.  

What Do Recruitment Agencies Do? 

Recruitment agencies are among the most prevalent forms of corporate recruitment assistance. These agencies specialize in helping companies fill their job vacancies by actively sourcing potential candidates and collecting resumes for open positions. 

Recruitment agencies primarily focus on filling standard job roles within organizations. If your company is seeking candidates for roles like customer support agents, administrative assistants, software developers, or human resources assistants, these agencies are well-suited for your needs. They engage with active job seekers, aiming to fill immediately required roles in a more generalized hiring process. 

It’s important to note that while recruitment agencies play a valuable part in filling entry-level roles, junior positions, and mid-management level roles, they are not ideal for executive roles. 

What is the Search Process a Recruiting Agency Follows?

Recruitment agencies often deal with a higher volume of job vacancies across a range of roles and levels. They use job boards, job ads, job portals, and other means to attract active job seekers. While they play a vital role in the staffing industry, their approach is generally more transactional, with less strategic oversight. 

While [recruitment agencies] play a vital role in the staffing industry, their approach is generally more transactional, with less strategic oversight.

Most recruitment agencies do not offer candidate screenings, candidate assessments, or candidate interviews. If they do offer candidate interviews, they’re often “light” and don’t delve very deep into the candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, or capabilities. Instead, they simply supply the hiring company with resumes and allow the company to conduct its own interviews and assessments to select its successful candidate. 

There are various types of recruiting that recruitment agencies engage in. By far, the most common is contingency recruiting, where the recruitment agency is only paid if one of the applicants it supplied for consideration is hired.  

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Recruitment Agencies

The main advantage of recruitment agencies is that they give companies access to a large pool of potential candidates and readily supply resumes, which means the company itself isn’t burdened with sourcing applicants.  

Conventional recruitment agencies tend to be more cost-effective compared to executive search firms primarily due to their specialization in roles below the C-level or board level. The recruiters at conventional agencies may not possess the same level of experience or qualifications as executive recruiters. 

The main disadvantage of conventional recruitment firms is that they are generally only able to effectively fill lower-level positions. Hiring executives and board members is an exact science, and executive recruiters seek specialized skills for these roles. A conventional recruiter who is good at hiring administrative assistants may not also have the skills to find your next CEO (in fact, the chances are very slim). 

What is Executive Search?

Executive search is a specialized practice conducted by executive search firms and executive search consultants. These firms are dedicated to identifying and recruiting top candidates for executive roles and board-level positions.  

Their expertise lies in attracting highly skilled leaders, including those who may not be actively seeking new opportunities (known as “passive candidates”) but who can be persuaded to consider a career-enhancing move by these firms. 

Executive search firms offer a more tailored search process. This involves thorough interviews and assessments of executive candidates, utilizing tools such as psychometric tests, skills assessments, personality evaluations, and role-playing scenarios. They provide valuable assistance in negotiating compensation packages with the chosen candidate, too.  

Many executive search firms, like Stanton Chase, also go a step further by offering onboarding support, ensuring the integration and success of the newly hired executive. 

What is the Search Process an Executive Search Firm Follows?

The executive search and recruitment process begins with the executive search firm familiarizing itself with your company, its requirements, and the executive role that needs to be filled. 

At Stanton Chase, the first two weeks are dedicated to creating a position specification, defining a target list of companies, developing the Ideal Candidate Profile, setting priorities, establishing desired outcomes, creating a search schedule, and conducting client calibration meetings. In this phase, we strive to deeply understand the organization and its future challenges. We also take time to understand the company’s culture to ensure a good match with the candidate’s cultural fit. 

Thereafter, executive search companies work on market research, identifying prospects with the necessary experience and skills. They also conduct interviews based on the competencies outlined in the job description. At Stanton Chase, this phase is typically completed by the end of week six. 

Following this, there is a long list review to compile a short list of candidates. After presenting shortlisted candidates to the company, the executive search firm conducts rigorous assessments and testing of the shortlisted candidates. 

If you choose to engage Stanton Chase’s services, this period is followed by what we refer to as “the closing phase,” which usually takes place in weeks 11 and 12. During this phase, final interviews are conducted, background checks are performed, and offers and negotiations are completed. 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Executive Search

The main advantage of executive search is gaining access to the very best talent for your C-suite or board. Executive search firms have networks that extend into the upper echelons of some of the world’s largest and most formidable companies—organizations with the kind of executives you’d do anything to get your hands on. 

The main advantage of executive search is gaining access to the very best talent for your C-suite or board.

Reducing the risk of making poor hires is also a significant advantage. Executive search firms, such as Stanton Chase, place hundreds of top executives and board members each year, boasting high success rates.  

Not only do executive search firms have a wealth of experience in placing leaders, but they also conduct specialized research and possess market understanding that conventional recruitment agencies simply lack. The specialist hires made by executive search firms aid the companies that hire them in achieving their long- and short-term goals. 

But there are downsides as well. One of the primary drawbacks is the cost. Most executive search firms affiliated with the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) exclusively offer retained search services. Retained executive search entails upfront costs before the executive search firm initiates the search for your next executive. 

Executive Search vs. Conventional Recruitment: Which is Better?

Both executive search and conventional recruitment have their advantages, but at the end of the day, there’s only one major determining factor: if you’re hiring for a C-suite or board position, you should engage an executive search firm.  

Executive search firms don’t just provide you with resumes and candidates; they are leadership consulting firms that can enhance your company’s success through strategic insights, coupled with the kind of leadership you need to turn strategy into reality. 

For entry-level hires, junior positions, and mid-management level roles, a conventional recruitment agency will suffice. 

What Sets Stanton Chase’s Executive Search Services Apart? 

At Stanton Chase, we offer a unique array of executive search benefits that set us apart. You can read more about them by clicking here

Every one of our offices is independently owned by a partner and all our searches are partner-led. This guarantees that when you engage with any of our offices, you’re directly collaborating with the partner who owns and operates it. 

Stanton Chase stands out by transcending the limitations that often constrain other executive search agencies. With a global presence spanning over 40 countries, we have the expertise and reach to cater to diverse industries and business functions, including the industrial sector, life sciences and healthcare, supply chain, private equity, financial services, professional services, social impact (government, nonprofit, and education), technology, and more. 

To connect with one of our consultants, please click here

About the Authors

Pilar Brogeras is a Managing Director at Stanton Chase Mexico City and the Global Leader for the Startups and Scale-ups sector. 

In 2017, she was awarded “The Future of the Profession” Award by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consulting. 

Pilar holds an MBA in senior management from Anahuac University (Mexico), an international master’s in leadership from EADA Business School (Spain), and a degree in communication from Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico). She is certified by Cornell University in Executive Search and Leadership Consulting and holds a diploma in Human Resources from the UIA (Mexico).  

Pilar is also a graduate of Santander W50: Preparing Our Women Board Members of Tomorrow program, in partnership with UCLA Anderson Executive Education.  

Marius Precu is a Managing Partner at Stanton Chase Bucharest. In 2016, he assumed the role of Managing Partner for our Bucharest office after successfully completing a strategic merger between his company and Stanton Chase. 

In his prior roles, he served as both a Founding Partner and a Co-Owner. In these capacities, he was responsible for establishing one company and driving the strategic direction and operations of another. 

Prior to this, Marius served as Country Manager with an international executive search firm. In this position, he was responsible for establishing the company and overseeing its day-to-day operations in Romania and Bulgaria. 

Marius holds a bachelor’s degree in Stomatology from Carol Davila University.

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