How to Find Retained Executive Search Firms

How to Find Retained Executive Search Firms

There’s a recruiter for every type of job out there regardless of industry or title. Are you looking for a junior Accounts Payable person with non-profit experience in a medical facility? Maybe you need a warehouse manager who is also familiar with drop shipping. Or perhaps you need an eLearning expert to spearhead your new onboarding initiative. Whatever your need, there’s a recruiter who can help you fill it. But that doesn’t mean the best recruiter for your position is easy to find, and that is especially true with executives. For those positions, the best recruiter is probably a Retained Executive Search Firm.


What is a Retained Executive Search Firm?

There are two kinds types of recruiters, defined by the way they charge fees – contingency and retained. Contingency recruiters receive a fee based on the rate of pay of a hired employee. The recruiter doesn’t get paid unless and until they get someone hired. Their primary motivation is to find a good candidate as soon as possible in order to collect their fees. Retained recruiters, on the other hand, receive their fee upfront before beginning a candidate search. Their fees are generally higher than contingent recruiters, but their motivation lies with getting just the right candidate into the position.

Retained executive search firms are focused on finding the best talent at the top of corporate structures. The type of people a retained search firm finds is not the type of people you will find on a job board. In fact, they probably aren’t even on the job market strictly speaking, and executive search firms don’t rely on people responding to job postings. Instead, they approach passive candidates. They research your industry and your competitors to find the best candidate for your position; someone whose skills and experience will drive your company’s success effectively and efficiently.


When should you use a Retained Executive Search Firm?

The use of a retained search firm means a significant investment from your company. Obviously, this is not a business relationship to enter lightly. So when should you use a retained search firm?

The position is essential

Think about the roles and duties of an executive at your company. Executives make decisions that affect revenue and impact the bottom line. Your company needs the best people it can find in these roles who can hit the ground running.

Discretion is vital

There are plenty of reasons you want to keep your search for this person quiet. Maybe you are replacing an underperformer who doesn’t know it yet. Perhaps you’ve created a position to address a market change your competition isn’t aware of. Whatever the reason, you don’t want everybody to know you’re trying to fill this position.

You need a specialized skill set or industry experience

Recruiters can be very resourceful, but sometimes they just won’t have the network that you need. If you’re in a niche industry, or if you want to poach from your (friendly?) competitors without causing too much drama, an executive search firm can provide just the right kind of support.


How do you find the right firm?

If you’re involved with hiring, you likely already know recruiters. In addition to the people you have on staff, you’re almost certain to have someone you can call on to find a temporary receptionist or a full-time Customer Support Manager. But when it comes to the kind of sensitive and vital positions that need a retained executive search firm, you probably don’t have many contacts. So what should you do?

Talk to your network

Most companies have used executive recruiters at some point. Talk to the people in your network and ask which search firms they have used in the past, and what their experience has been. Find out who they recommend, and, importantly, whom they advise against contacting.

Use Social Media and other Online Resources

LinkedIn, Twitter, even Facebook can provide a great deal of opinions and information about top retained executive search firms. In addition to social media, you can find information about potential search firms by going to Recruiters Lineup. They have a very extensive database of recruiters and firms.

Pay attention to your industry press

Keep up with news about your industry, market, and competitors in publications like the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Pay attention to which search firms are mentioned.


How do you know you’ve found the right firm?

Before you sign a retained search firm agreement, you’ll want to be sure you’re making the best choice. So how do you verify that you’ve found the right firm?

They have strong knowledge of your market and your corporate mission

A good search firm does their homework. They should be ready to demonstrate their knowledge of your market space as well as your company.

They offer good advice

The best retained search firms are trusted advisors, providing insight and perspective. You can count on them to speak honestly about your company and the candidates they provide.

They understand and appreciate the value of your time

More candidates don’t necessarily increase the likelihood of a hire. A good search firm won’t bother presenting candidates that might not be right for your position.



Hopefully, you won’t need to use an executive search firm very often. But even if you don’t have much turnover at the top of your company and you’ve figured out the best ways to retain your employees, finding a good search firm ahead of time will better prepare you for the next time you do need one.