How Do Companies Know When It’s Time to Seek a Retained Executive Search Firm?

As a hiring manager, how do you know when the time has come to seek out a retained executive search (RES) firm?  The answer to that question is simple:  Every single time you are hiring a senior level executive.

Leaders may toss around figures like 50k and 100k, but the cost of an unfilled position is likely much larger than numbers written on a single check.  How much does it cost to divert the work of others to fill the gap until the role is filled?  How much business is lost?  How much goodwill could you potentially lose by openly poaching from partner companies?  How long is it going to take to personally find an individual with the precise mix of skills that you need?

Benefits of Retained Executive Search - Woman at Laptop writing notes

Residents of the C-suite should rather take a holistic approach to finances when it comes to hiring senior executives.  Using a RES firm is slightly more expensive than using contingency firms (no hire/no pay), but truthfully, when it comes to hiring executives for top positions, the latter are less suited to the task.


Compare and Contrast

Consider: Contingency firms get a list of requirements, sort through their files looking for reasonably close matches, and then forward some CVs in the hopes that you’ll hire one of them, and then the contingency firm will get paid.  While this is a legitimate working system, the time and detail dedicated to ensuring that a particular candidate is “the one” is significantly less. This is not to downplay the work or necessity of contingency search firms; simply to display how a different set of needs (i.e. filling an executive/c-level role) requires a more comprehensive approach.

The nature of contingency firms requires them to be less invested in one particular prospect; simply due to the mere volume with which they are dealing.  Contingency firms serve their purpose; they provide a broad range of candidates for many generic executive positions.  The candidates are vetted, but in all likelihood, not as thoroughly as you are going to need for a senior executive.

The last thing you want is to hire is someone with an obscured track record of failure.  If you don’t find out first, your competitors will, and they will likely have the ability to use it against you.  For instance, the last thing you want to discover is that your CFO was implicated in a pension scam in a foreign country, in a position that he or she held for only two months; one that was likely omitted from their resume.

RES firms provide thorough vetting of all candidates.  They approach them directly, interview them face-to-face, and then provide detailed assessments of the candidates to the hiring companies.  The reports often include intelligence assessments, aptitude assessments, and personality traits (a type of “psychometry”, if you will), as an aid to determining their compatibility.


Time is Money

More importantly, RES firms provide credibility.  The “cream of the crop” that you are looking for may not necessarily be looking for you.  Top executives are well treated, well paid, and well compensated.  This amounts to them being passive candidates that are most likely not looking for a change.

Most top executives only work with RES firms.  It would be atypical for them to even consider working with standard headhunter who is looking to build a portfolio of candidates.  If the recruiter doesn’t come to the table with a solid, fascinating offer, there are plenty of other ways that an executive can use their valuable time to achieve their goals.

Skill and Experience

Even if the position isn’t the precise one which that executive needs, they are now aware that this recruiter has serious, legitimate offers.  Plus, studies have shown that executives are much more open to discussing their capabilities, desires, and accomplishments with a third party, rather than directly with the competitor looking to lure them away from their current position.

The fact of the matter is that these candidates are willing to discuss their goals, their plans for the future, and their ambitions. Simultaneously, RES recruiters have the advantage of getting to know the executives, not just for their capabilities and accomplishments, but for how they integrate with other team members.

Retained executive search recruiters decipher the environment in which executives will thrive; they can place them in corporate cultures that match their personalities and tendencies.  It is in the company’s best interest to obtain an employee for the long term, because the length of time that the average senior executive spends in a particular position is only three years.

If they are matched with the right company, the affiliation could technically develop into a years’ long employment relationship.  That, in turn, is going to save the cost of replacement, downtime, diverting other people to cover the necessities of the position until it’s refilled, and all sorts of other needless annoyances.


The Takeaway

Ultimately, the RES firm will provide much greater value.  They have a vested interest in being successful because that will establish a business relationship, and then you will work with them again.  Better yet, you’ll recommend them to others.

Free up your HR department to do their real job of managing your people on a day-to-day basis.  In reality, they are likely not equipped for senior executive searches any more than contingency firms.  Hire a RES firm and let them get on with the job, solving your problem quickly and permanently.


Fred Coon, CEO 

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

Career Highlight: Information Technology Director

Information Technology (IT) professionals are among the accomplished global workforce’s most invaluable assets. The role of IT is fairly well understood to the business world at large, as most — if very nearly all — companies have some sphere of technical operations in their functioning departments. These are the individuals who maintain the computer systems of businesses and organizations, large and small. IT it-director-businessman-entering-virtual-touchscreenprofessionals ensure that operations are running smoothly and generally provide support and advice to all users; from new hires to the boardroom.

IT professionals run a large spectrum of specialties as well, ranging from Analysts (who use their expertise to evaluate existing systems and applications – data, hardware, etc., to streamline and integrate enhancements) to Mobile Development (ensuring businesses stay connected, productive, and on top of the technology curve with on-the-go apps and software), and Security Specialists (the vital role of which is obvious to most).

Somewhat less understood, however, is the role of the IT Director. This is something of an oddity, as the vital role they play simply cannot be overstated. Indeed, without a competent IT Director fully engaged, most organizations would unravel at the seams, and in short order at that.

The Scope of the IT Director

In short, the role of the IT Director embodies the strategy, oversight, and seamless execution of an organization’s technological infrastructure. Among the IT Director’s most important functions are:

  • Oversight of technical projects
  • Ensuring all such projects are in-line with the organization’s goals and development
  • Managing the company’s networks and lines of communication
  • Oversight of systems development
  • Emergency and disaster recovery systems

With these points engaged, we begin to appreciate the value that a knowledgeable IT Director brings to a company, as well as some reasons why this professional is an indispensable asset.

In distilling the role itself, we observe that there is a specific scope of the IT Director’s responsibilities which is rarely seen outside of the upper executive suites. In choosing (or promoting) a candidate to fill this role for an enterprise, there are a few items that a clever executive would do well to consider.

  1. A prospective IT Director must have the ability to skillfully and accurately assess both new and existing technologies, and deliver it-director-screen-graphicinnovative new methods seamlessly (as is possible) into daily operations.
  2. The IT Director is typically required to handle the activities of upper-management — which is, incidentally, a task generally falling under the purview of an entire career unto itself — and is thus responsible for hiring, talent analysis, recruiting, and most other high-level duties of any other department manager.
  3. It can be concluded that the IT Director you want on staff will be able to crest all of these expectations and then demonstrate the capacity to reliably plan, evaluate, and then execute any additions of process, technical systems, and computer operations under the company umbrella.

So, we see that not only is an IT Director indispensable, they must be among the most highly competent and skilled among the team.

Those Capable May Apply

Aside from the standard formal education requirements (which are actually becoming less and less relevant in the age of open education where professionals can gain the ideal experience rather than pursuing a degree),the savvy executive will seek out those who have a demonstrable track-record of direct experience in the IT field, singling in on those who have held positions reflecting an upward momentum and, perhaps most importantly, those who have pursued an array of professional credentials and certifications in the field.

Naturally, hiring executives should pay special attention to those with experience working for the big names: Microsoft, Apple, and Cisco in particular. The CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) is a vendor-neutral industry association which offers programs for certification on an array of brands across the spectrum of skills, and it is always worth looking into talent that can boast them.

The final point is this: a competent executive can be relied upon to conduct a comprehensive analysis and vetting of those who would fill pivotal roles in the enterprise – no exceptions.

Fred Coon, CEO


At SC&C we offer Career Analysis to help senior decision-makers from all walks of life identify strategies and tactics to increase their value-add employment potential.