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To your company, the difference between the right and the wrong executive hiring decision can be millions of dollars, and these critical decisions can impact your bottom line for years down the road. By utilizing the knowledge and experience of an executive search firm, a company can hedge the risk of making poor hiring decisions. Like potential employees, though, not every search firm is the same.

“When you’re hiring a search firm, that search firm is going to be representing you to the marketplace,” said Jeff Ketchum, President of executive search firm, Automotive Recruiters International, Inc., “and you want to ensure that their values and ethics and the modus operandi of their business reflect your own.”

Following the advice below will help you find the executive search firm that will best match your company.

Have a potential search firm walk you through their process.

The first question many companies ask when evaluating a potential search firm is, “how much experience do you have in our industry?” Industry experience, though, does not necessarily make a good search firm.

“More important than industry experience is the experience that a search firm has in helping make the right hires occur,” Ketchum said.

Rather than specializing in a specific industry, a quality search firm should specialize in working with organizations to understand the objectives of the company and of the hire, ensuring that the search targets the right qualified individuals. Have a potential executive search partner explain their process, and get a clear understanding of exactly what that search firm will do for you from start to finish.

An excellent search firm will:

  • Visit you, seeking to understand the current state of your organization, while assessing the personalities of your board or executive leadership team.
    Gain an understanding of your organization’s services, products, or market.
  • Perform extensive research into competitive industry targets or organizations likely to be employing qualified candidates.
  • Directly approach individuals within the targeted organizations, confidentially presenting your opportunity in a professional manner.
  • Network with all existing contacts and acquaintances throughout the marketplace.
  • Call and network with individuals from those companies.
  • Interview candidates face-to-face, assessing their skills, talents, experience, and competencies in your areas of greatest strategic need.
  • Participate and give sound advice during the interview process.
  • Ensure the smooth transition of the successful candidate into the role with regularly scheduled interviews through the first six months of employment.

Get an understanding of who will actually be doing the work.

More important than the search firm is the actual search consultant who will perform the work. At most large firms, a senior consultant will obtain the search, while a junior consultant may perform the search.

A typical search takes 300 hours or more. “There’s a ton of groundwork,” Ketchum said. “I’d want to know how involved that search consultant is going to be in that groundwork.”

In partnering with an executive search firm, it is valuable to develop a relationship with the consultant who will be conducting the search and representing your company to the top ten percent of talent within your sector.

Questions you may want to ask include:

  • What is the experience level of the recruiter who will be conducting the search? How long have they been in the business, and at what functional level do they typically serve clients?
  • Is the consultant certified by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC)?
  • What organizational challenges or problems have they helped clients solve?
  • Throughout what industries have they worked?

Ask for References.

It is always a good idea to contact companies with which a potential executive search partner has done business. Some questions to ask are:

  • What was the overall experience like working with your consultant, and what did you appreciate?
  • At the onset of the search, how much time did the consultant spend with your organization? Did they visit and get to know you?
  • When the finalist candidates were presented, what was the depth and quality of the reports?
  • Did the consultant attend the interviews with you, and if so, what type of advice did they offer during the interview process?
  • On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your overall experience?

Think about size.

Executive search firms range from boutique-sized, relying on one or two key people, to large firms with hundreds of consultants.

Advantages of Large Search Firms:

  • Name recognition and reputation
  • Years of experience as a company
  • Many consultants and large support structures
  • Large candidate databases, similar to those of employment agencies

Advantages of boutique search firms:

  • Owner or partners are likely to do most of the hands-on work
  • Typically less expensive, as most small firms are not publicly traded and have less focus on revenue generation
  • Very personal and service oriented
  • Eager to grow and willing to put forth effort on tough searches in order to assist organizations with their future hiring needs
Office Locations

Fort Myers Office
P.0. Box 62093
Fort Myers, Florida 33906
Tel: +1 (239) 344-9514

Gladstone Office
P.O. Box 469
Gladstone, Michigan 49837
Tel: +1 (906) 428-9330


+1 (239) 344-9514

SINCE 1998 - ARI has more than two decades of succession planning, recruiting and executive hiring & development experience that can benefit you.

BOOK A DISCOVERY CALL - We know the exact process that works when planning for C-level hires, attracting “excellence” to your role and assessing candidates for experience, style and cultural fit. Our studies and insight into executive hiring “best practices” help to mitigate risk when hiring senior level executives, while maximizing the contributions of new hires through accelerated integration and on-boarding.

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