Like many professions, the executive recruiting industry has developed its own specializations and distinctions. The differences between retained executive search and other types of recruitment can seem confusing and the differences unimportant. However, to people in the profession and those dealing with it, the differences are crucial.
Retained executive search consulting is a form of management consulting - the phrase refers to the contract under which consulting and recruiting advice is performed. The process of contacting and introducing senior executives is a sensitive one and should be performed correctly. It is not just a matter of payment. The retainer provides an umbrella of professionalism, credibility and recognized practice into an area of management where considerable harm may be caused to the individual and the organization concerned if proper process is ignored. It also implies partnership between the executive search firm and the hiring organization. The search firm brings industry specific expertise and unique insight on the client’s leadership needs.
As a candidate, it means that your career information will be held in the strictest confidence by the search firm and only disclosed to a client organization with your agreement. It means that when interested in a position, you will be treated as a candidate, not as an applicant. Considerable time and effort will be expended by the search consultant in getting to know and evaluate you and your background. You should treat the consultant as a trusted intermediary rather than as an obstacle. If this position does not work out there will always be others.
When responding to a possible opportunity, always ask whether the search firm is retained by the client organization. You should expect a good knowledge about the organization from the search firm’s researchers and search consultants. If they don’t know much, they may well not be retained.
If they are not retained, then you should query the relationship between the search firm and the client organization. The client may not trust the search firm to deliver quality candidates and if they have requested candidates from one firm, then they may well have requested candidates from several others. This kind of speculative process could place you in a compromised position, wasting your time and perhaps even harming your reputation.


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