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What Are The Differences Between Headhunter And Executive Search?

Confused about the distinction between recruitment and executive search? It's not just you. Even those who work in the staffing industry frequently use the words interchangeably. Although executive search firms and headhunter executive search have the same goal - finding the ideal candidate for the ideal position at the ideal time - there are slight differences in their business models and approaches.

Is There Any Difference Between Headhunter And Executive Search?

Let's be clear about this right away. Headhunter and executive search are the same things. An executive search firm or an independent consultant are both examples of headhunters.

But why we don’t call both of them “headhunter executive search” or “executive search”? Although both of them can find top talents, there are some other differences between them.

About their business model

The majority of executive searches use a contingent business model, meaning that they only get paid if they successfully place a candidate. Rarely are these exclusive, which means that other recruitment agencies are directly competing with them to fill the position. Prospective clients looking to work with a recruiter for the first time may find the prospect of no upfront costs, low risk (the recruiter effectively shoulders the risk for conducting the search), and direct competition appealing.

headhunter executive search
Figure 1. Headhunter executive search use retained business model while executive search uses a contingent business model

On the other hand, headhunter executive search follows a retained business model. This indicates that they charge a deposit that typically amounts to 33% of the total fee. This initial outlay is a reflection of the difficulty of the search and the resources needed to conduct it. In addition to establishing the skills, experience, and competencies necessary for success in the role, your headhunter executive search should take the time to comprehend your market offering, including your mission, values, and culture. The consultant can market your role using a performance job description that has been approved and signed. The remaining fee will be due upon placement (a success-focused fee) or in installments during significant turning points in the search, such as following the submission of a shortlist of candidates.

The Way They Choose To Find Candidates

Through traditional channels like job boards, online ads, and social media, executive search typically targets active job seekers - candidates who are either unemployed or actively looking for a new position. About 30% of the talent pool is actively looking for work, which constricts the search. Additionally, there may be direct competition for these candidates as they may be registered with multiple recruitment agencies and attending interviews for numerous positions. By contacting candidates on their database and LinkedIn network, recruiters hope to partially offset these disadvantages. The time required for proactive searches is prohibitive due to their contingent business model.

Headhunter executive search
Figure 2. Ads are the preferable way for executive search agencies to find their talents

Headhunter executive search, on the other hand, uses proactive search methodologies to target both passive talents - candidates who are either employed or not looking for a job change – and "tiptoers" - candidates who are not yet applying for jobs but are networking. Passive candidates and tiptoes account for roughly 60% of the talent pool and do not actively interview. They could even work for a competitor! As a result, passive candidates and tiptoes are a sought-after talent pool. However, in recent years, pioneering firms have expanded their coverage to include active job seekers, supplementing the search with job advertisements and other traditional channels (providing the search is non-confidential). This ensures that the headhunter executive search can reach out to the best candidates, regardless of their situation. As the industry evolves, some executive search firms have expanded beyond traditional search and selection to provide leadership advisory services to their clients.


In this article, we have pointed out two minor differences between headhunter executive search and executive search, which basically the same, and you still can get the best talent when using both of the models.

Source: Internet


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