10 Things to Expect from an Executive Recruiter

An executive recruiter can assist you in building a team for your company

However, there are plenty of companies calling themselves “executive recruiters”.  How can you be sure you’re selecting a good one?

Here are 10 things to look for that tell you you’re dealing with a reputable executive recruiter.

  1. Fee Structure

One  way of classifying recruiters is by their fee structure.

The majority of recruiters work on what is called a “Contingency” basis. That is, they only receive compensation for their work when a candidate is successfully hired by the client. If they cannot deliver a candidate, you do not have to pay.

The other major type of recruiter is called a “Retained Recruiter”.  Retained recruiters treat each assignment as a project and charge a fixed fee for completing it.  Usually, this starts out with a deposit of 30 – 33% of the total fee. Another 30 – 33% is paid out when the recruiter has presented a short list of candidates for interviewing by the client.  The balance is paid out when a candidate is hired by the client.

  1. Fees

Regardless of whether the recruiter is contingency or retained, recruiters’ fees typically are determined as a percentage of the base salary for the job they are trying to fill.

This can range from 15 to 35%.  The lower percentages usually apply to entry-level or junior positions for which there are a large number of potential candidates capable to doing the job. The higher percentages are most often used for senior positions, where there are fewer potential candidates to draw from.

Other things that contribute to a higher search fee include: requiring the search draw from a specific industry, limiting the geographic area in which candidates can be found or moving the search to a global basis.

  1. Agreement

You can expect to receive an agreement of some kind from most reputable recruiters.

The agreement will outline the position to be filled, the fee for performing the search, a timeframe for completing the project, probably some milestones or a description of the process to be used by the recruiter.

You will be asked to review and sign a copy of the agreement. This is how you provide the recruiter authority to act on your behalf.

  1. Negotiable

If you read through the recruiter’s letter of agreement and are unsure about something, don’t hesitate to ask the recruiter why it is in the agreement.

Often, the agreement can look like a legal document seemingly etched in stone.  However, most reputable recruiters are open to negotiate terms of the agreement so, if you’re uncomfortable about something, discuss it with the recruiter and see if they can revise the agreement.

If you still have some doubts consider consulting your lawyer to clarify the terms of the agreement.

Until you sign, it’s only a proposal. It only becomes an agreement when you sign.

  1. Less work

One reason you hire a recruiter is to shorten the time required to hire someone for a position. Another reason is to have the recruiter perform tasks your staff would otherwise have to do. If your CFO is also responsible for Human Resources, is it worth his or her time to be reviewing hundreds of resumes instead of focusing on strategic issues?

The recruiter should be doing the bulk of screening and interviewing candidates at the beginning of the process.  Your staff should only become actively involved after the recruiter has narrowed the field down to the 3 to 5 candidates they consider worth interviewing.  The recruiter also has the experience to perform professional reference checks.

If the recruiter you are working with sends you dozens of resumes to review, they’re not really doing what you paid them to do.  Time to look for another recruiter.

  1. Bigger, Better Talent Pool

You may think that, by advertising or posting a job yourself, you’ll naturally attract good people.

Unless you’re a high profile company such as Google, Apple or Johnson & Johnson, chances are that most of the applicants you receive don’t know much about your company.  You’ll really only be seeing the people who are actively looking for work, which can represent only 4 to 6% of the potential candidates. So, doing a search on your own can severely restrict the quantity and quality of candidates you can interview.

A recruiter can work for you as an intermediary, to reach out to people who are actively working and who need to be persuaded to change employers. There’s a reason these people are actively working: they’re generally good at what they do.  Using a recruiter also helps you avoid complaints from competitors about “poaching” their people because a professional recruiter will approach candidates about an “opportunity” and usually will not disclose the client until they are positive the candidate is interested in the position.

  1. Intelligence

A good recruiter can help ensure the compensation you are offering will attract good candidates.

They’re working in the market every day and are much more attuned to compensation levels in several industries.

  1. Guarantee

Somewhere in the agreement you sign, you should find a clause that indicates what kind of support you will receive from the recruiter if the candidate you hire doesn’t work out.

Usually, if the employee leaves within 3 months of the hire date, the recruiter should be offering to do another search free of charge. Sometimes this threshold can be longer, depending on the seniority and nature of the position as well as the time required to properly assess performance.

A good rule of thumb would be that the more junior the role the shorter the guarantee period and conversely, the more senior the role, the longer the guarantee period will be.

  1. Off Limits

Something else you should look for in your recruiting agreement is a clause stating that the recruiter will not recruit staff from you organization to other companies for a specified period of time.  If you don’t see anything like this, feel free to ask your recruiter about their off limits policy and ask for it in writing.

There are unscrupulous recruiters who “poach” candidates from their clients to help them fill job orders.  Sometimes they could even recruit someone who they just placed with you, waiting for the guarantee period to expire so they ensure they collect their fee. Sometimes, they poach the candidate, then approach the client about filling the vacant role.  This is not characteristic of professional recruiters, who do not want to risk upsetting a client relationship.

  1. Confidentiality

Working with a recruiter usually requires extensive sharing of information about your company, its performance, its markets and processes and so on.

In the hands of an unscrupulous recruiter, your company information could find its way into a competitor. With a reputable recruiter, their lips are sealed.

To protect yourself and your company, you can ask to have the recruiter sign a Non-Disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a Confidential Disclosure Agreement (CDA).  You may have a template you can use to draft one up (or ask your lawyer to make one for you).  Otherwise, the recruiter may have a form of their own.

As with the recruiting agreement, read it thoroughly to ensure you understand it and to feel confident it will protect your company.

There also is a type of search, called a Confidential Search”. Sometimes, the employer mounts one of these confidential searches to quietly find a replacement for a current employee.  In such searches, the company name is never disclosed via advertisements or job postings. An ad, if used, would usually be placed under the recruiting firm’s banner and would describe the search as being “on behalf of a client in the …”

Other times, the search can be confidential because revealing the nature of the position and company name could provide some meaningful intelligence to competitors.

For these types of search, the recruiter serves as the primary contact point for candidates so phone calls are answered in the name of the recruiting firm and, similarly with emails.  Here the recruiter is protecting the identity of the client and, as such, has a responsibility for not revealing any confidential information.


The list of things to look for in a recruiter are by no means limited to what we’ve described here.  What we’ve tried to do is give you the most important signs of how a reputable recruiting firm would operate.

In future, we’ll do a similar paper on what recruiters CAN’T do for you, as an employer.