Weighing whether to handle internally, with a staffing firm or recruiterQ. We just received notice that our VP of Marketing is resigning and has accepted a position with a competitor. This is a big loss for our company and we know that finding a replacement will be a great challenge. We are considering using an executive search firm to help us. Please explain to me the value of using a retained search firm vs. a staffing agency vs. internal efforts?

A. The most important thing to understand is that recruiting is a detailed process with many layers. Successful recruiters are professional networkers who are able to locate people who might not otherwise be looking for new opportunities. To be truly effective requires selling your company’s mission, vision and values, articulate the position responsibilities and a compelling reason why someone should consider your opportunity vs. their current role or other positions.

Most companies that approach filling a position through their own efforts will turn this over to their internal recruiter or human resources department and in some cases the actual hiring manager. Their time, resources and network are very limited and they lack the necessary expertise.

If recruiting is a detailed process with multiple layers, is your team qualified to get the job done right? Ask yourself if he/she is qualified to represent your organization in a professional, ethical and legal manner?

Because of the millions of unemployed workers, the average job ad will result in 500-plus applicants. Are you prepared to review and pre-qualify all of these applicants and do you have a good process in place to screen out the unqualified from the qualified?

In most cases the answer is no. Keep in mind that the cost of a hiring mistake can add up to three times the annual base salary which is based on loss of business, productivity and revenue. No guarantee.

Staffing agencies maintain relationships with various companies and candidates and have the freedom to cross-present to multiple companies.

If you’re seeking a broad pool of talent and there is no sense of urgency, working with a staffing agency may be the way to go. They are paid only if you hire one of their candidates presented to you. Fees typically range from 20 to 30 percent of the annual base salary and the guarantee varies from 30 to 90 days.

Retained search firms are consulting-oriented and their recruiters are professionals. Retained search firms take the time to get to know you and your team, understand the company’s history, milestones and challenges.

They are knowledgeable about your products and services, your culture and plans for the future. They focus on locating candidates with the education, skills, experience and management style you require. Some firms have a niche and focus on specific skill sets, industries and disciplines. They consider themselves an extension of the client.

Retained consultants tend to consider candidates identified through their own network or referred to them by a trusted source. They are best suited for senior-level positions where there are fewer qualified candidates, and the challenge often times is recruiting the talent from the competition. Most companies who decide to use a retained search firm are facing the following challenges:

• A senior-level role is open, and the organization must be represented in a professional, courteous and discreet manner.

• A confidential replacement search must be conducted in a timely and discreet manner.

• A target search with a comprehensive investigation of the talent pool from your competition.

• A talent search is required to supplement succession planning and growth strategies.

• A new position requires extensive research and market penetration to provide the selection committee with adequate information to define a profile and promote a role.

• A high-level executive will most likely explore an opportunity if a company is represented by a firm with an exclusive retained search arrangement. An executive should feel confident that any dialogue with a retained search firm will be discreet, confidential and efficient.

Whoever you decide to work with, one rule remains the same: work with a professional who is qualified to get the job done right.


Jennifer Laxton is the CEO and Executive Coach with Executive Search Associates in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is an executive search and consulting company. You can reach her at 707-217-4535 or jklaxton@esa.com.