When Should You Partner With an Executive Search Firm?

Executive search firms can be key partners to companies with targeted recruitment needs, but it isn't always clear when a company should engage with a firm.

For example, you may already have a human resources or recruiting department focused on filling your positions, or you may be actively recruiting for the position yourself. In either of these cases, you might be inclined to think you've got all your recruiting bases covered.

If you have a healthy candidate pipeline and are already seeing great talent, partnering with a firm may not necessarily get you the most mileage out of the relationship.

However, there are certain instances when your recruiting process could use an infusion of external recruitment expertise. Here are a few different scenarios to help you determine whether or not your next recruiting endeavor could benefit from a partnership with an executive search firm:

1. For Confidential Searches

Maybe you're replacing a key employee and don't want word to get out until you have someone in place. Working with a third party can separate the headhunting function from internal recruiting, develop a candidate pool, vet candidates, and help manage any issues around confidentiality. Many executive search agreements also come with clauses that define the level of confidentiality expected by the client and how the recruitment partner will handle confidential activities. The only people involved in the recruiting process are those who need to know what's happening, such as the client's HR department or hiring managers.

Your search partner may also be able to help you coordinate tasks like assessments, interview times and dates, interview travel, relocation, offer negotiation, and pre-employment testing, alleviating some of the workload from your recruiting group and keeping only those who need to know in the loop.

2. For Hard-to-Fill Positions

If you're seeking someone for a very specialized role, your internal team may not have the appropriate networks to locate and woo the right candidates.

An executive search firm with relationships across different industries and disciplines can quickly zero-in on the right individual because it's already working with similar candidates. Executive recruiters are constantly making these connections, whether with candidates they have reached out to in the past who weren't yet ready for a role (or are simply waiting for the right role), or with candidates who are networking for their next opportunity, or with individuals who can connect them to the right people.

As headhunters, executive recruiters are skilled at directly sourcing talent from the competition or similar industry verticals, so you see candidates who may not yet be in your corporate applicant tracking system or may not be actively looking for an opportunity.

3. When You're Stretched for Resources

Your recruiting team may not have the resources or skill set to focus on your open position, but an executive search partner can dedicate resources to your search from beginning to end. If it's an especially urgent need or you have multiple positions open, you may be assigned several recruiters, along with an account manager who will ensure the search firm's alignment with your hiring goals. This allows you to see a steady flow of candidates without missing a beat. In the meanwhile, your internal team can focus on specific hiring objectives, such as filling a new sales class or opening a new facility, while your search partner focuses on specialized positions.

4. When You Need the Position Filled Quickly

As recruiters, we often hear that clients need positions filled "yesterday." Although we haven't yet mastered time-travel, executive recruiters are skilled at responding to client openings with urgency. While your internal recruiting or HR function may be pressed with various priorities, your executive search partner has been retained to fill a specific role. In addition, if your search firm is offering contingency placement fees, it will not be paid until the role is filled, which means your search partner will be motivated to present qualified candidates sooner.

5. When You Need the Right Person

A best practice for working with an executive search firm is to clearly outline your must-haves for the position to help your search partner get off the ground quickly, but you'll also want to keep an open mind about candidates and interview regularly. Your executive search partner will be sending resumes, interview notes, and other documents to support your hiring decisions, but the best rule of thumb is to interview everyone your search firm recommends. That's because your search firm not only sources resumes, but also conducts in-depth interviews assessing experience and cultural fit to help make the best match.

Remember, an executive search partner isn't looking for a quick fix. Given that your partner is on the hook for replacing candidates within the guarantee period (anywhere from 90 days to 6 months or a year, especially for very senior positions), they'll want the candidate to work out as much as you do. They won't send anyone who is likely to be a poor match. So don't get caught up looking for the purple squirrel, particularly if it means you may miss a hidden gem.

A version of this article originally appeared on the ACA Talent blog.

Sabrina Balmick is marketing manager at ACA Talent.