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When does it make sense to engage a search firm?

It’s no secret that the cost for recruitment can be high – so how do hiring managers or HR leaders justify it? I’ve put together some criteria to consider before engaging a search firm, along with short case study discussing the upside.

Key things to think about:

  • What’s your budget, and does it account for the individual joining? Have you considered recruitment costs? Set a budget but be prepared to be flexible (does your budget allow you to attract the best talent) – utilising a search firm will obviously add to the cost.

  • How long do you have to find the right person? Is this hire time sensitive? Are there financial implications without them?

  • What impact can this hire have on revenue? (Hiring a high performer versus an average/B-grade hire). Are you hiring a high performer? What’s the realistic ceiling of what they can achieve, as opposed to a less experienced or effective hire? You need to consider your candidate’s level to get maximum bang for your buck. Where will this person sit within the organisation – and if you do recruit a high achiever, how will you retain them? If you pay more, what can you expect?

  • Can your internal recruitment team find the right individual? Internal recruitment teams are the best place to start (my partner is an internal talent acquisition specialist, so I know this first hand), they know your business intimately and know how to sell the business to candidates, it’s imperative that they are part of the process. That said, the question to ask is do they have the capacity to run the search, as they are often hiring multiple roles at any given time across multiple disciplines. If not, it’s worth using a specialist search firm with expertise within that discipline. It’s worth remembering that specialist recruiters can have access to networks that internal talent teams do not.

  • How long should you give your internal recruitment team to find the right talent before engaging a search firm? Ultimately down to timeframe, budget, and a sense check on the CVs you’ve been receiving.

  • Are they a luxury hire or a necessity to the business? Think about whether increased headcount = increased revenue. Are you going through a rapid phase of growth, and need to expand to maintain the status quo? Or can you do without any new faces for the time being?

  • Is this a confidential search? are you looking to replace a low achiever? Are you looking to replace a low achiever? This is always a delicate topic, but sometimes you just don’t have the right person in a role. If you do decide on a replacement search, ensure you manage the situation sensitively (I’d advise having any candidates you approach sign an NDA.)

  • Is the need for this role likely to change in 12 months? You don’t want a new recruit to find themselves surplus to requirements soon after the immediate gap in your company has been filled. Does the role need to be a permanent hire, or could it be interim or FTC?

  • Why/How are you attractive to candidates? This is a really important one. Ask yourself what’s the sell to the candidates? Why should they want to join your company? You need to convey this message in the job description as well as via the internal recruiter or search firm.

Why use an executive search firm?

Quite simply, executive search firms have access to the best talent, as we need to keep a live and active network. These candidates are unlikely to apply for a role through a job board or LinkedIn advertisement; indeed, the best talent might not actively consider a change until they receive an approach. People like to be headhunted – it’s one thing that I hear all the time when speaking to candidates. When they talk about why they made a move, they will often start the sentence with: ‘I was headhunted for this role because...’

Executive search firms can be your eyes and ears on the market, saving you time, offering insight into what your competitors are paying, giving soft references and quickly screening candidates for suitability for your business. Furthermore, executive recruiters can provide expert advice on how best to market your organisation to attract the strongest talent, and what you must do to retain them. The best search firms will understand that customer service extends to both client and candidate – at Venari Partners, we strive to make the process as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Case study

We were recently engaged by a travel tech firm who were looking to add high-calibre sales talent to their business. We applied our search model: mapped the market; created a longlist, then shortlist of talent; and, ultimately, finding the right individual following four rounds of interviews with various members of the senior leadership team and board.

The candidate started late last year, having joined their new organisation from a competitor. Within their first six months, they have added close to £500,000 in revenue to the business by opening new accounts and re-structuring the sales team across EMEA.

For me, there are three takeaways here:
  1. The candidate would not have applied for the role directly, as it was with a competitor. They weren’t actively looking for a new role until we got in touch.

  2. The value-add eclipses the recruitment fee paid. As the saying goes: you have to spend money to make money.

  3. You can never tell how a new hire will adapt with 100% accuracy, but if you pull out all the stops to hire a talented, proven individual who’s at the top of their game, it’s more likely they’ll settle quickly and add value fast, rather than if you go for a B-grade candidate who might need more time to get up to speed and contribute less long-term.


Whether you hire an executive search firm for your talent solutions will depend on several factors. For any revenue-generating role, where hiring the best individual possible will result in an exponential increase in revenue, then for me it’s simple: I believe the benefits of utilising a search firm far outweigh the costs incurred. It’s worth doing your homework, speaking to multiple executive search firms to find the right one for your business and current needs.

Ultimately the more important the role, the deeper and wider the search should be.

For lower-level roles, utilizing a contingent recruitment agency, or advertising via LinkedIn/job boards is cost effective and would be my initial search method.

If you are looking at bringing talent into your team, feel free to get in touch for some advice on the best approach, recruitment is never a one size fits all process.


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