April 12, 2017 Emily Lierle

6 Realities of Executive Search You Don’t Have To Accept

Never Settle for These 6 Executive Search Practices

Industry insights to shape a new reality for your recruitment efforts

1. Slap-the-logo-on-it posts

Typical practice: a company prepares a job description, then hires a recruiting firm. Adding their logo to the job description, the recruiter quickly posts it to the same places any of us can.

Simply changing the label on the packaging adds zero value to the recruiting process.

Candidates lose excitement to apply when they see a staffing company’s name on the job ad. They know they will have to go through a middleman, instead of going directly to the company. Be sure this is not the primary practice you are paying top dollar for when hiring a search agency.

2. Off-limits agreements

I was recently chatting with a CHRO candidate operating at the highest level of leadership. Sitting in the office of a well-known executive search firm, he overheard a conversation between two other members of the firm’s team.

One consultant asked the other, “Who are the top 10 people on our short-list?” As one consultant listed names, the other stopped him and said, “Nope, that person’s off-limits”—over and over.

Because of how big these firms are, they often have off-limits agreements with their clients that prohibit them from recruiting the best people. Because they placed someone in a different role at the company, they are unable to recruit those individuals.

This is where service-driven, personalized boutique firms have an advantage. Because they’re not primarily focused in just one job function or industry, their ability to tap into the best of the best people is rarely, if ever, impacted by an off-limits agreement.

3. Commission-paid recruiters

Most search professionals receive a base salary, plus a hefty commission as compensation. If compensation as a search professional correlates with closing transactions, where is the line drawn between personal interests and placing the right person in a role for a client?

This work is about matching the right person with an organization because it works for everyone. Not just for the monetary benefit of the search professional.

4. Misaligned Interests

Most search firms price their engagements as a percentage of the candidate’s estimated first-year total compensation. The incentive becomes this: the more expensive the candidate, the more money the search firm makes. It carries an implied misalignment in interests. This is why more organizations are choosing an executive search firm offering a flat-fee model.

5. Ignoring values, purpose and culture alignment

realities of executive search

From my experience in leading talent acquisition for a large company, far too many search firms focus on the skills of the job and how to potentially poach from competitors. There is little attention paid to purpose, mission, philosophy, culture, values and overall leadership alignment.

The search business has largely been dominated by resume-matching to job descriptions. But ignoring purpose and culture leads to mismatches and requires damage control down the road.

Intangible alignment — the things that never show up on the resume or job description — is simply what needs to be pursued in an executive search.

6. Going back to that same old database (or Rolodex for some of us)

There is value in a search firm having expertise in an industry or job function. But it also causes tunnel vision. Firms continue to flip through same Rolodex of people — those perceived as star players. Those individuals can then continue to obtain bigger salaries, bigger bonuses, sign-ons, severance packages, and play the financial “gain game.”

This practice is simply shortsighted. Every search should be approached as brand new. Search professionals should also never assume they have somebody who’s surely the right fit.

Don’t settle. Hiring the right leaders is critical for the success outcome of your organization. Utilize these industry insights to shape a new reality for your recruitment efforts.

What do you think about these insights? Have any others to add? Share here to ignite a conversation.


Y Scouts, a leadership search firm, finds purpose-aligned as well as performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.