Webinar: Talent Acquisition Trends 2023
Watch a dynamic discussion on what employers can do to attract—and retain—the best talent in the year ahead.
How we help you
We help you find leaders who fit your culture and advise you on the rewards that will encourage them to stick with you. Our executive search recruiters have experience around the world, in industries like finance, life sciences, consumer, healthcare, technology and beyond. Here’s how we can help.
If the right leaders aren’t already in your business, we look externally
We use our vast database of executives and large network of Korn Ferry relationships to find candidates. We then put candidates through a blind screen to reduce unconscious bias and find the best people for the job.
Our Success Profiles show you what good looks like
We advise you on competitive pay and rewards packages
Our Executive Snapshot process embeds job grade, description and salary benchmarking into your executive searches.
We help you expand into new markets and locations
Our consultants have on-the-ground recruitment experience in 130 countries, and use a range of job sites and industry databases. So no matter what your industry or business function, we can help you shape your new leadership team.
Frequently asked questions for Executive Search
What does a global executive search firm do?
Executive search firms identify and recruit highly qualified candidates for senior roles, including C-suite positions, on behalf of their clients. They serve as a recruitment arm for their clients, but they go way beyond sourcing candidates.
These firms spend time getting to know the organization and its culture. They prepare job descriptions and Success Profiles, identify candidates, screen prospects, and introduce candidates to the organization. They sometimes also help with onboarding and consult on executive compensation and benefits.
Leading executive search firms serve as brand ambassadors and advocates in the hiring community. Organizations don’t want temporary hires. They want to find the best fit that will be able to lead them now and into the future. This requires specialized skills in recruiting and assessing talent.
Executive recruiters typically have expertise in particular industries or roles, which gives them insights into which hires are best suited for your organization. When a prospective hire is approached by a headhunter from a reputable executive search firm, they’re more likely to listen. And executive search professionals offer objective, discreet counsel that can help your organization choose candidates ready to contribute immediately.
In short, executive search firms are incredibly valuable weapons in the war for talent.
What are the benefits of executive search?
Hiring a talented executive takes more than simply posting the equivalent of a “help wanted” ad on your website. Busy executives aren’t scouring your website or job boards for their next opportunity. And even with a talented HR team, it’s not going to be easy to find and attract leading candidates. They aren’t likely to respond to an email advertising a position if it’s from someone they don’t know.
What does work? Reaching these leaders through an executive search specialist with the backing of a reputable firm. Aside from helping you make connections, here are the other benefits of working with a professional executive search firm:
- Access to top candidates: Given the skills necessary to excel in an executive role, it’s likely that you’ll have to look outside your company. Outsourcing the legwork of finding top candidates can help you ensure the candidates sourced are qualified for the role. This way, HR doesn’t have to sift through applications from hundreds of applicants who aren’t suited for the role.
- Diversity: Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is essential throughout an organization, but it’s particularly important in the C-suite. Executive search processes need to support the organization’s overall DE&I goals. Working with a search firm with access to diverse candidates can widen the pool and help organizations improve representation in their senior ranks.
- Objectivity: When recruiting for a senior-level role, unbiased advice from a neutral third party can be invaluable. Getting the opinion of someone you trust can help you view candidates, and your organization, with fresh eyes. It may be easier for an executive recruiter to offer feedback on the job profile and compensation structure. An outside perspective can help you avoid political maneuvers and unconscious bias.
- Faster results: Relying on an experienced team that uses focused techniques to recruit executives is likely to yield results quickly. That’s especially true when hiring for a complex senior role because it’s so difficult to find people with the right mix of skills, behaviors and attributes. Executive search firms have the tools necessary to assess candidate quality and can reach into databases to surface candidates quickly.
- Cost-efficiency: Although there is a cost outlay with retaining an executive search firm, the results outweigh the costs. The time and resources that firms spend trying to recruit executives can be better spent on other initiatives. When executive roles are dormant for too long, it can lead to revenue loss and reputational harm. Furthermore, if a team hires the wrong candidate, the cost of turnover is high, from loss of productivity to lower morale.
- Deep insights: When recruiting for an executive role, organizations need guidance on what to look for as well as how to entice candidates. They need insights into the market to ensure their compensation and benefits are competitive. An experienced executive search firm can share insights based on their knowledge of the industry, job and geographic market. Search firms also have experience in succession planning, so you can prepare to start hiring as soon as you learn about a vacancy. Finally, executive search firms that specialize in employee assessment and leadership development can help you identify high-potential internal talent that you can cultivate for future opportunities.
- Confidentiality: Organizations may not want to broadcast that they’re looking for a new executive hire, especially if they’re hiring when the incumbent isn’t planning to leave. An executive search firm can work discreetly and confidentially to source candidates and ready a replacement.
What is the difference between recruitment and executive search?
Recruitment and executive search are entirely different processes, and they require different approaches and skill sets. Here’s a high-level overview of some of the critical differences between these functions.
With recruitment, organizations seek to attract candidates to apply and interview for a role. The organization advertises the role on its website, social media or job boards. Then active job seekers pursue the role. Most often, these recruiters are trying to fill entry and mid-level roles.
This scattershot approach to recruitment doesn’t work for roles on senior leadership teams. The qualified leaders for these roles aren’t pounding the pavement looking for a new job. That’s where executive search firms come in.
Executive search firms look for the ideal match of skills, competencies, mindset and experience for a role. They also look to ensure there is a good fit with the company’s culture and operations. How they do this is very different from how recruitment agencies approach openings.
For example, executive recruitment firms spend time poring over their extensive candidate databases looking for highly qualified individuals who may match the role. They target passive candidates — individuals who aren’t actively looking for a new role — as well as people who are networking and may be interested in making a change. They have strategies for how to approach both sets of candidates.
Executive search firms conduct research and partner with the organization to understand an organization’s culture and structures. They also look closely at roles and isolate the key traits and competencies that leaders need to excel. They can then conduct interviews and assess candidates, so they only present the most qualified options to their clients.
Additionally, executive search firms tend to be global in reach and narrow in scope. They cover a lot of ground in searching for top candidates to fill top roles. They also tend to have executive recruiting teams that focus on particular industries or business functions. Recruiting agencies, on the other hand, tend to focus on a narrow geographic market and take a broader, industry-agnostic approach.
What is the executive search process?
After you find an executive search firm and outline the terms of your retainer, you’ll launch a search. Here’s what that process typically looks like.
- Step 1: Discovery. The executive search firm meets with stakeholders to discuss the role, including its responsibilities and requirements, and the organization’s culture. Often, stakeholders include members of the executive team, board members, and HR. The goal is to understand what is necessary for someone to succeed in the role.
- Step 2: Build a Success Profile. The search firm studies the position, including its duties, goals, and reporting relationships, to build what we call a "Success Profile." Success Profiles explain the work that needs to be done and the skills, competencies and mindset required to do that work. With a Success Profile in hand, organizations can understand what top candidates look like and keep executive searches on track.
- Step 3: Build a list of targets. The search firm compiles a list of companies with candidates in similar roles with similar cultures and office locations. The firm then researches potential hires in its candidate database, other proprietary databases and social networks to develop a list of prospects. Executive search specialists also reach out to professional associations and other groups for referrals.
- Step 4: Qualify prospects. The executive search firm contacts prospects to see whether they are qualified and interested. The first step is to see whether they match the Success Profile. Then the team assesses whether they would be willing to leave their current role.
- Step 5. Interview prospects. The search firm meets with top candidates in an in-depth interview, which may take place online or in person. The executive search partner then verifies skills and references to the extent possible to assess potential fit.
- Step 6: Present candidates to the client. The next step is to present a slate of top candidates to the client. The search firm prepares a report that explains each candidate’s background and assesses their strengths and weaknesses against the Success Profile. The recruiting team will also share details to help the client close the deal, such as salary requirements and motivators.
- Step 7: Schedule client interviews. The client conducts in-depth, in-person interviews to narrow the list to two or three finalists.
- Step 8: Verify references. At this stage, the executive search firm contacts the candidate’s references and confirms employment and credentials. Because of the sensitive nature of these conversations, the search team takes steps to ensure confidentiality.
- Step 9: Extend the offer. The executive search firm helps the client construct an attractive offer, including an enticing salary and benefits package.
- Step 10: Close the search. Once the executive accepts the offer, the search firm may assist with onboarding and transitioning. Otherwise, the engagement ends.