Executive Search vs Contingent Recruitment

Simon Roderick - Fram Search

Managing Director – Simon Roderick

Written by Simon Roderick, Managing Director.

I’ve been recruiting for twenty years and at Fram we have lots of experience of both executive search and contingent models. The question isn’t really which is the best approach, but what is the most appropriate for the client. What are they trying to achieve?

Of late, clients have favoured contingent recruitment for all but the most business critical, senior, or difficult roles to fill. Why? Well I think we live in a world nowadays where clients value flexibility – and they may value it even more moving forwards. There are of course more recruiters prepared to work on a success basis than ever before. Sometimes clients simply like to hedge their bets and work with 2-3 firms, which isn’t advisable on roles once you get to a certain level of seniority. It looks awful, diminishes the value add your recruitment partner can bring, and it doesn’t help you to “woo” top talent.

Sometimes when they appoint a new recruitment partner, they are often worried to hand out a retainer to a firm they haven’t worked with before. Why would they not be using their existing panel of executive search companies you may ask? You’d be surprised how often we meet firms who’ve retained a firm and got no success. Their bad experience has put them off and they don’t want to repeat the process. However, when you dig a little deeper they’ve often appointed the wrong type of firm. A compliance specialist to hire a Head of IT, an FMCG specialist to find a head of an financial services business and so on. Maybe I’m labouring the point a bit, but you do hear of examples that leave you scratching your head.

Fram has a 100% record of completing retained assignments. People often don’t believe us and I’ve often thought I should lie and say our track record is 80% instead. The reason for our success is that we only take on assignments when we’re confident of completing them, and hence why our completion rate is so good.

The other trend we’ve seen is firms trying to bring recruitment at all levels in-house. I feel this should be the preserve of larger firms only, who can set up teams with a breadth of experience, who can offer career progression for their recruiters, and who create a small recruitment agency within their business. I think small and medium sized firms will be beset with issues around keeping recruitment staff engaged (they will, and do, have turnover every 12-18 months), they also can’t get enough depth of experience into their recruitment team. I know some will argue this isn’t right, but I wouldn’t implement this strategy if I ran a small to medium sized firm.

So, in what circumstances should one choose retained search or contingent over the other?

In short, I think any role with a basic salary over £100k should be an executive search. Clients should appoint one firm to identify the talent on the market and not to simply accept the CVs of individuals already in the market (from a database). They should use it is an opportunity to understand the competitive landscape, to find the best talent possible, to use the process to push positive PR, and to utilise the executive search consultant’s extensive industry expertise.

Fram Search - recruitment process

At this level, you often want to attract the individuals who aren’t actively looking, but who may engage if the right opportunity comes up if it’s presented to them in the right way (we call it passive talent). Many of the best placements I’ve ever made weren’t even looking and told me so at the outset, but I still managed to meet them. I even met someone at their employer’s office once, as they were so adamant that they weren’t looking and they didn’t want to waste time walking to meet me at the hotel I suggested.

In my experience, clients are fantastic at selling themselves, but they often can’t get the right talent in the room to sell their opportunity. It’s the executive search consultant’s job to asses candidates for skills to build a relationship where the individual will eventually go and talk to their client. It’s essential in this situation that their recruitment partner tells the client that the individual is coming in for an informal chat to talk about the market as they aren’t expecting to be grilled.

As mentioned, the executive search process throws up lots of value adding insights and it should also give clients an insight into how their brand is perceived. Firms are often quite surprised both positively and negatively about how their firm is perceived in the market. This feedback can help them develop their ongoing brand and culture. Clients can be wary of going down the executive search route, but they often save time as retained search has a habit of delivering better outcomes than contingent recruitment. It’s a process that if managed well should always produce a good outcome.

Contingent recruitment is a great solution for most other recruitment, though. I think clients would be pleasantly surprised if they knew the level of screening that goes on during contingent assignments, and nowadays there is an element of headhunting in sourcing for these roles. It’s just not as in-depth in terms of delving into the market as an executive search, agencies don’t have the time to prepare detailed insights into the market and even if they did, at this level they are often disintermediated these days by an HR partner who acts as interface between the recruiter and hiring manager. They also can’t spend as much time on each assignment and pursuing hard to secure talent. When clients come to recruitment firms on a contingent basis, they often require a speedy response.

Fram has experience of both. We provide high levels of sector knowledge with consultants who are functional specialists and our agile team comes together to deliver the best solution. If we can help you with any hiring needs, then please call me in confidence on 01525 864 372 or email sroderick@framsearch.com

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