Frequently Asked Questions

Executive Search FAQs

Why should your organisation use an Executive Search firm?

Finding, engaging and hiring senior executives is not only time consuming, it’s a complicated challenge. Simply advertising a position on a job board (such as SEEK or Indeed), LinkedIn or your company website might generate many applicants, but won’t necessarily attract top talent. Then there’s the daunting task of refining the talent pool to a manageable shortlist of suitable candidates. While larger organisations may have internal HR and even dedicated recruitment teams, however well resourced you are, it’s unlikely you will be accustomed to regularly recruiting at C Suite or Board level, or be equipped with the knowledge to get past the gatekeepers to those currently employed in senior positions. It’s about finding those people who are not necessarily in the market and attracting them. Engaging an executive search firm provides you with the experience of search professionals who know how to find, approach and talk to people in senior roles. 

What is the difference between Executive Recruitment and Executive Search?

While internal and external recruiters often achieve good results placing candidates in management and leadership roles through traditional means (advertising, database search and professional networks), there’s a significant difference between Executive Recruitment and Executive Search (also known as Search or headhunting).

Search is characterised by discretion and confidentiality, which means the role is not made public and no advertising is undertaken. Executive Search relies completely on headhunting suitable candidates through targeted research, then approaching specific individuals, also known as ‘passive’ candidates. Typically, passive candidates are not necessarily in the market or actively looking for a new role, however they may be open to considering other career opportunities. The ability to approach, engage and negotiate with ideal executive candidates who are currently employed in senior positions is one of the true skills of a search professional.

What is the difference between Advertised Executive Search (AdSearch) and Search (or headhunting)?

A pure Executive Search involves detailed research, identification, qualification and ‘approaching’ of potential candidates in specified and agreed industry verticals. We combine our current candidate and market knowledge with additional research following briefing discussions with the organisation to produce a comprehensive and considered candidate target list. As no advertising is undertaken, Search relies completely on targeted research and is considered suitable for assignments with particular sensitivities, nuances or when targeting specific individuals.

In certain circumstances, it may be advantageous or an organisational directive to conduct an Advertised Executive Search (AdSearch). Government, for example, typically requires all professional roles, regardless of seniority or political sensitivity, to be publicly advertised. AdSearch is a comprehensive service combining advertising in specific print, digital and social media supplemented by targeted Executive Search of potential candidates.

When should I engage an Executive Search firm?

  • To acquire new talent as a result of growth
  • To replace an incumbent executive leaving the organisation
  • To facilitate the smooth transition of a retiring leader
  • For technical and difficult to fill roles

Organisations engage Executive Search firms when they recognise a need to acquire leadership talent. Whether talent acquisition is part of a growth strategy, succession planning or an unforeseen resignation, they are able to identify and engage talent that is not actively in the market, as well as executives who are actively seeking opportunities. Other factors such as confidentiality, market sensitivity and the political environment may also require that you engage with a search firm. Executive Search firms are also well placed to advise on global talent trends, remuneration drivers and other outside factors affecting the market.

What should I look for in a Search consultant?

Reputation and research capability are everything! When considering different firms and consultants, it is important that you ensure they have not only the market knowledge, but the credibility to open doors; it is the ability to access great talent at the senior level that sets search consultants apart.

The AESC and RCSA set the benchmarks for professionalism in our industry. Member firms and accredited professionals are bound by codes for Professional Practice, so ensure you are partnering with a recognised provider. ISO 9001 quality accreditation is another way you can be sure you are dealing with a reputable firm.

What are the steps in the Executive Search Process and how long does it usually take?

  1. Briefing
  2. Workshops around culture, leadership and performance
  3. Agreed selection criteria
  4. Assignment specification
  5. Initial profiling and market mapping (with advertising if required)
  6. Research and applicant summary discussion
  7. Shortlist
  8. Client interviews
  9. Due diligence
  10. Negotiation
  11. Acceptance and onboarding – First 100 days

An executive search process can be quite detailed, however it’s essential at the start of the process to invest in the time to really understand your organisation and learn how the executive role will impact current and future stakeholder value.

Dependant on the complexity of the role, location and degree of international candidate inclusion, the process through to presentation of the shortlist can range from four weeks to three months. The subsequent steps are very much dependent on your organisation, your internal processes and your selection panel’s availability, but it is generally an additional three to six weeks until the offer and contract is finalised. A comprehensive on-boarding program helps facilitate the smooth transition of the executive into their new role.

How does a Search firm charge for its services?

Search firms charge a percentage of the executive’s commencing salary package (inclusive of superannuation, vehicle and any other guaranteed benefits).

Fees are payable at three milestones in the process:

  • On commencement of the assignment
  • On presentation of an agreed shortlist
  • On acceptance in writing by the successful candidate

How can I ensure diversity when conducting an executive search?

Look for a firm who embraces the benefits of diversity in their own culture. Best practice may include a Diversity & Inclusion Code of Conduct, Equal Employment Opportunity Policy or similar commitments. In Australia, members of the Diversity Council (DCA), an initiative of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of Australia, demonstrate the business community’s commitment to equal opportunity and all aspects of diversity in employment.

Do I need a resume or a LinkedIn profile to be considered for executive opportunities?

Executive Search firms don’t rely on LinkedIn or any one source for potential candidates. However, maintaining a profile on professional networks such as LinkedIn or uploading your resume to a talent database on a career site is certainly helpful for search consultants. It’s not necessary to have a resume for a search consultant to find and approach you, but a resume will eventually be required, should you become a candidate. There are also a number of other portals shared by executive search firms where senior executives can register their details, such as the AESC’s Career Service, BlueSteps.

Is Executive Search confidential?

Yes, the executive search process is confidential. In many cases, due to the sensitivity of the roles they handle, search firms ask both clients and prospective candidates to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements prior to engaging with them. Australian search firms have obligations under the Privacy Act, the Australian Privacy Principles, and when dealing with EU residents, must also comply with the European Union General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). A search firm should not approach referees without your express permission. 


How do I apply for opportunities that are not advertised or make myself known as a candidate to a search firm?

You can reach out to an Executive Search firm if you hear of a role that they are managing or if you just want to discuss your next career opportunity. As appropriate, a search consultant will arrange a confidential conversation to learn more about you, your fit for the role, or if not for a specific position, how they can help you in the future. Many firms also have a candidate portal where you can register your interest.

How can I be considered for board opportunities or first board role?

The composition of Boards is ever-evolving: most are now skills based, with a requirement to have completed an appropriate governance course, which ensures Board members understand their role and responsibilities.

To be considered, you should make yourself known to a variety of firms, network broadly and register with specific professional organisations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and the Governance Institute. Other relevant groups include Women on Boards.

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