What is executive search - Strategy, Process & definition

Everything you need to know about Executive Search

What is Executive Search? Executive Search is something every organization will need to attract top leaders in times of change or growth. Otherwise referred to as leadership recruitment or executive recruiting, executive search empowers businesses to find, attract, and secure talented leaders with the skills to drive success. 

How does Executive Search work and what benefits do hiring an executive recruiting firm offer? As leading Executive Search firm, Key Search gained a lot of experience in this field. Keep reading to find out more about the definition, process and strategy of Executive Search.


What Is Executive Search: Definition

Executive Search is a recruitment service that helps businesses across private, public, and non-profit sectors find the best leaders with specialized skills and experience.

Executive Search Definition: Leadership recruitment consultants find the experts capable of filling senior leadership roles, representing the in-demand soft and hard skills that result in greater organizational success.

As you’d imagine, this kind of top talent is unlikely to be scouring job boards to find their next role. That’s why Executive Search specialists identify and approach qualified candidates suitable for their client’s organization — whether they’re on the lookout for a new opportunity or not. 

1. Find Exceptional Leaders
Businesses work with an executive search agency to access candidates they would struggle to find and connect with independently. This enables them to hire from an exceptional pool of the most talented leaders boasting vital leadership skills, innovative ideas, and expert insights into critical areas.

2. Key Leadership Positions
Executive Search recruiter teams locate and build connections with business leaders in various positions, including Sales Directors and VPs, and C-Suite execs (e.g., CTOs, CMOs, and CFOs).

3. Different than headhunter firms
Unlike headhunter firms, Executive Search firms also provide access to highly skilled and experienced candidates who may not be actively seeking new opportunities.

Organizations use executive placement companies to fill time-sensitive leadership roles efficiently and effectively. These specialized search teams can dedicate themselves to finding the perfect candidate while clients focus on their day-to-day work. Executive Search also ensures that the most important senior positions are filled by the best leaders possible.

Process & Strategy Of Executive Search - 9 Steps

Business person calling in his office

The process of Executive Search can take a considerable amount of time, especially for high-level positions. It involves the following steps:

  1. Define the Role and Objectives: The first step involves clarifying the role that needs to be filled. This includes defining the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications, as well as the job’s responsibilities and expectations. It’s also essential to understand the organization’s culture and strategy.

  2. Develop a Search Strategy: This involves identifying where potential candidates might be found. It includes defining target industries, companies, roles, and geographical locations. This strategy often includes both an online component (e.g., LinkedIn or industry-specific databases) and an offline component (e.g., networking events or personal connections).

  3. Identify Potential Candidates: The search strategy is implemented to identify potential candidates. This might involve directly reaching out to people who fit the profile, as well as leveraging connections for introductions.

  4. Screen and Evaluate Candidates: Once potential candidates have been identified, they are screened and evaluated. This usually involves conducting interviews, checking references, and possibly administering assessments or work samples.

  5. Present Shortlisted Candidates: The Executive Search firm presents a shortlist of candidates to the client. This list includes detailed information about each candidate’s qualifications, experience, and potential fit for the role and the company.

  6. Client Interviews and Selection: The client then interviews the shortlisted candidates. The Executive Search firm often assists with interview preparation, scheduling, and feedback collection. Once all interviews have been conducted, the client makes a selection.

  7. Negotiate and Extend Offer: The Executive Search firm often plays a role in negotiating the terms of the offer and formally extending it to the chosen candidate.

  8. Onboarding: Once the offer is accepted, the Executive Search firm often assists with the onboarding process. This might include helping the new hire understand the company culture, establish key relationships, and set early objectives.

  9. Follow-up: The firm typically follows up with both the client and the new hire to ensure a successful transition and address any issues or concerns. They also keep in touch with the candidate during their tenure, which could help in future search assignments or in case of potential exits.

The process Of Executive Search At Key Search

Let’s take a closer look at what the Key Search executive recruitment process involves:

Why Hire An Executive Search Firm?

  • Kick-Off and Briefing

    The first stage in our executive search process involves getting to know our client, the position to be filled, and the essential criteria of the individual required. We work closely as a team to develop a comprehensive plan before we start our search.

  • Market Research & Outreach

    Key Search’s next step involves exploring the market and identifying viable candidates, whether they’re active or passive at the moment. We leverage our vast experience, wide-ranging network connections, and the latest technologies to build the strongest list of candidates.

  • Interviewing & Offer Managements

    Meeting candidates in person is the most accurate way to assess what they bring to the table and whether they’ll be a valuable asset. Once a potential leader has passed our interview stage, we invest considerable time and resources into building offers that incentivize the best candidates to take on a new position.

  • Realtime Reporting

    Our real-time reporting keeps clients updated on all developments during the executive search. Visibility and transparency are critical to delivering exceptional service — and we promise that every time.

  • Proactive Consulting

    We work with clients to ensure a smooth transition for the candidate and employer. We ask the right questions and offer the right answers to cater to everyone’s needs.

  • Time savings: A key advantage is the time a search specialist invests in attracting the right talent and understanding how their client can retain the candidate’s interest. This is crucial when aiming to fill roles of exceptional strategic value to an organization, such as CTO or VP Product.
  • Avoid bad hires: No organization can afford to overlook the importance of finding the best people for leadership roles, but bad hires are surprisingly common.
    ➔ Gallup research shows that
    businesses fail to hire candidates with the right talent for a position in 82% of cases. And the cost of a bad hire is believed to be 30% or more of the employee’s first-year earnings — that’s a substantial sum for leadership positions.
  • Ill-equipped in-house HR departments: They may be involved with hiring junior and mid-management workers, but they’re typically ill-equipped to bring verified, passive leaders on board. They may fail to identify and establish communications with candidates in high-responsibility roles due to a lack of resources or network connections. So that’s where an executive search specialist steps in.
  • Internal recruitments my lack skills: Internal recruiting is a common solution for filling vacancies in a quick, convenient way — but employees promoted from within an organization may lack the specialized skills, best practices, and training required to lead teams to success.

Sometimes a fresh perspective is what’s needed to transform a business from the top down and that’s something executive recruiters can help you achieve.

Hiring an Executive Search service liberates organizations from the stress, strain, and time-consuming effort involved in searching for highly skilled business leaders on their own. 


This timeline varies depending on the criteria involved, the number of viable candidates, and other key factors. From starting the search to successful completion Key Search aims to complete the hire within 12 weeks. Bear in mind, though, that it can take several weeks to build an impressive shortlist for a leadership position. You don’t want to rush such high-profile decisions.

Key Search achieves more than 80+ high-profile leadership placements per year.

Executive Search, despite its boom, remains a fragmented market. With many thousands of providers, it is hard to choose the right one. Large multinationals usually work with the five giants: Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, Russell Reynolds Associates, Egon Zehnder, and Korn Ferry. This quintet, known as the “Shrek” firm are specialized in hiring for large corporate conglomerates.

Boutique firms like Key Search with deep expertise in specific industries are thriving within their sectors with a dedicated focus. There are also a huge amount of individual consultants sometimes known as cowboy’s since, as one puts it, “anyone can buy a computer, get a LinkedIn license and call themselves a search expert”.

Yes. Applicants must come with a specific track record, continuous career growth, and specific key hiring criteria as per the agreement with the client to ensure they’re suitable for the position in question.

Furthermore, Key Search validates each selected candidate with a psychometric assessment that gives additional insight into the candidate’s behavioral and also cognitive skillset. It is an additional step the candidate takes in parallel to the interviews and helps to evaluate the job fit in much more depth, especially in times of remote hiring.

Key Search conducts in-depth market mapping to identify candidates with the right track record, skills, and qualifications for a leadership position from a specific sector. Thanks to their domain expertise and deep network, the consultant reaches out to those who normally would not actively seek a position but are high potential leaders. Through a deep understanding of their client’s needs, Key Search is able to attract candidates the client would normally not be able to hire with their own efforts.

If you are still not sure which hiring solution is the best fit for your company, please contact one of our Directors. We will be happy to assist you.

About Key Search

Key Search is a boutique Executive Search firm with a unique track record in hiring top executives for well-known brands and start-ups in the digital space.
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