Insights

What is the difference between executive search and recruitment?

Even those with a good understanding of the business world can conflate executive search firms with recruitment firms. In some ways this is understandable considering the function of both is similar: to find suitable candidates for job roles.

However, the methods these two types of businesses use and the types of position they fill are vastly different, giving each a very distinct role in the world of new talent acquisition.

Below we have compiled several key differences between recruitment and executive search.

Candidate Search Methods

Traditionally, recruitment firms deal with active job seekers. These are the candidates who are making an effort to find a new job, often by trawling through job boards or linkedIn, or by contacting recruiters' firms directly. These kinds of firms may also advertise roles on social media.

On the other hand, executive search Consultants often use recruitment methods which target passive candidates. These are members of the talent pool who are not actively looking for a new position.

woman on recruitment phone call


This strategy is also known as headhunting and works through a deep knowledge of the position and candidate. Highly skilled executive search consultants highlight the unique value of what the candidate could bring to the company and what they themselves stand to gain by taking the role.


Type of Position

Recruitment firms are typically used for entry and mid-level positions in a company. Executive Search is most often used for senior positions or when specialist knowledge or a particular background are necessary for the role. These are considered “high risk” roles, where the wrong candidate or an early withdrawal could mean a large impact on the company.

However, businesses who decide to expand how they use executive search might find a number of benefits. Executive search companies often offer guarantees as to how long a candidate will remain in a position, avoiding further time and expense spent on short term employees.

They also spend time gaining a deeper understanding of the position and how best to fill it and are often able to offer expert insight and out-of-the-box ideas about how to find your next star asset to the business. This can be particularly useful if your business is largely one where employees are expected to stay many years, working their way up to more senior positions.

Range of Search

Executive search is more likely to look far and wide for candidates, depending on how suitable this is for the position. This includes finding candidates internationally, which relies on the agent’s specialist knowledge of the industry and what experiences and skills will be relevant from countries where the field may have some major differences.

travelling recruiter

For these reasons, you often see executive search companies specialising in particular areas of industry. For example, at Granger Reis, we specialise in Real Estate, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Industrial Technologies and Energy. Within these fields we also have further areas of expertise and experience, such as women in mining and hiring talent for positions to help companies reach net zero carbon emissions.

In contrast, Recruitment businesses are often more generalised services who search for talent locally.

Depth of Research and Knowledge

If you require your talent-finding solution to have a full, in-depth knowledge of both the position and the possible candidates, executive search would be a good choice.

They spend a large amount of time researching, nurturing relationships with promising candidates, and putting together complete profiles of the ideal kind of person to fill a role. These include how they may fit into a company culture, useful experience, and fulfil any other required experiential data. They will also identify the latent gaps, and therefore risk that needs to be managed.

Recruiters deal with more roles at once so spend less time for each one, simply sifting through to match up specified skills from the businesses’ job description with what’s on the candidate’s submissions or public profile

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