Executive Recruiters

The recruiting industry ranges from large international players to small, focused boutiques that conduct searches on either a retained or contingent basis.

Retained search firms receive a pre-negotiated fee and they own these search projects, which are often confidential. Contingent search firms are paid a percentage fee based on the placed candidate’s salary, and several firms typically work on the search at the same time.

It’s important to understand that recruiters conduct searches for hiring organizations — they are not employment agents that work on behalf of candidates, so establishing a dialogue with one does not necessarily lead to job prospects. However, recruiters are always looking to build their networks of strong candidates for future roles. Executive recruiters are also an excellent source of market intelligence.

To find the right recruiter for you, ask professionals in your industry and functional area for reputable search consultants. You may find it helpful to identify a small group of three to five recruiters in your field and maintain long-term relationships with them.

Connecting With a Recruiter

  • Referrals work best. Since recruiters are highly focused on specific searches, they may not respond to unrelated cold calls or emails.
  • Recruiters look for candidates with a track record in a given field, so dedicate time to building your reputation. This also means that executive recruiters may not be the best channel for career switchers.
  • Go to a firm’s website and fill out a profile to become part of their database. Specifying the countries you are willing to relocate to may be helpful as well.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile current at all times. Make sure your former job titles are as descriptive and searchable as possible.
  • Attend industry events. Search consultants use these events for networking purposes and even scan attendee lists into their databases.
Tom Friel giving presentation on executive job searches

Former chairman and CEO of Heidrick & Struggles Tom Friel shares insights gained from his years in the executive search industry. Alumni only; login required.

Executive Search Firms

The five global search firms are Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry, Spencer Stuart, Russell Reynolds Associates, and Egon Zehnder. These firms primarily conduct C-level, board, and vice president-level searches.

Meanwhile, there are many boutique firms that conduct searches starting at the director level. Because they are smaller in size, boutique firms are often much more specialized, either in industry or job function. These firms range in quality, but often involve former consultants from the big firms. Use your network to identify these small firms or recruiters. You can also search the Stanford GSB Alumni Directory for alumni working at these firms.