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They might have the same goal, but their methods are very different. 

Executive search and recruitment are terms used interchangeably and practices that ultimately lead to the same goal: the filling of a vacancy. But treating executive search and recruitment as the same can result in costly mistakes, lengthy recruitment processes and even the wrong hire. But what is the difference and which should you use?

Executive search vs recruitment – the differences

Put simply, executive search (also known as headhunting) involves targeting the absolute best talent available for a role and encouraging them to engage and ultimately disrupt their plans and change direction by accepting an offer with a new company. Recruitment, on the other hand, involves attracting suitable candidates to apply for a position. However, the differences run far deeper than the distinction between finding or attracting the best candidate for a role. 

The process of recruiting requires expert skills and experience in crafting engaging job advertisements, developing compelling employer branding, knowing the best places to advertise and quickly sifting and identifying the best applicants to invite for an interview. Outsourced recruitment operates on a contingent model, with payment only being made once a candidate is successfully placed. 

In contrast, the process of an executive search requires expertise in accessing the passive and active candidate markets, identifying the right person for the position, and discretely persuading them to consider this new opportunity and attend an interview. Outsourced executive search operates on a retained basis, with fees being charged in instalments throughout the search.

Accordingly, the differentiation between these two resourcing methods is crucial for ensuring that you have the necessary tools, skills and expertise to successfully recruit.


Executive search vs recruitment – which to use

So which method is best for you vacancy? Of the two, recruitment is typically less time-intensive and accordingly, less costly. Recruiters are quick to identify skills, post job advertisements and narrow down the best candidates for the next stage. This makes recruitment ideal for everyday hires and urgent vacancies, where a number of active candidates will likely suit the position – essentially when there is a surplus of candidates to demand. 

An executive search can be resource-intensive, resulting in higher costs and longer timeframes. Typically, the executive searcher will follow a project plan that sees them delve into the background of the role, the company culture and the skills required, helping them to create a candidate persona. This is then used to find and target suitable active and passive candidates, which could involve extensive online searches, networking and persuasion. A senior passive candidate is likely to be top of their game and someone who is exceeding expectations and changing their industry, so it’s not an easy task to persuade them to change their thinking and direction. Executive search effectively disrupts plans and it takes expertise to nurture a passive candidate through a process of initial interest to starting in a new role. An executive search is, therefore, best-suited to senior positions, hard-to-recruit skills and strategic hires. 

There does exist a grey area between the two where recruitment methods are used but passive candidates are also researched and directly approached. While this method can potentially enhance the candidate pool of recruitment, it can be detrimental to an executive search because of the specialist skills involved. 

If you’re unsure which method is best for your next vacancy, or you’d like to know more about the differences between executive search and recruitment, Omni RMS can help. Get in touch today to find out more.