Does Size Matter: Choosing Your Executive Search Firm

It’s the age-old question that we’ve all probably encountered in our lives at one point or the other. Does size matter? Well, it depends on who you’re speaking to or what it is you’re speaking of, but there will be varying opinions on the subject, that’s for sure.

However, when it comes to executive search firms, being bigger doesn’t always equate with being better. According to new findings by Hunt Scanlon Media, smaller, boutique search firms have a higher level of expertise and yield greater results. More than 1,000 human resource professionals and executive search consultants took part in Hunt Scanlon Media’s Executive Search State of the Industry report examining how the talent management sector operates from both the buy and sell side. The study says that “independent recruiters, those boutique specialists concentrating on just a small number of business sectors, are truly redefining a field once dominated by a handful of large, generalist search firms.”

Does Size Matter?

Of course, with all things, there are pros and cons to be weighed for both sides of the battle. On one side, the bigger firms have their benefits of brand name recognition and a client base of big, Fortune 500 companies that are sure to impress. But on the other side, they move slower, and often have so much historical “Big Data” that they find it difficult to parse the noise from the metrics that actually matter, getting lodged in “paralysis by analysis.” Their recruiters may be pressured to meet certain numbers on a weekly or monthly basis which can either overwhelm them or push them to make hasty decisions at the expense of the company they are advising. Not only that, but they also have huge restrictions when it comes to the actual recruiting – which is essentially their main goal.

The smaller firms, while they may not carry the instant familiarity, are “more nimble, flexible and hightouch,” according to the report. Often times, too, the niche firms are staffed by recruiters who learned their trade at the big firms or from a successful career in corporate America. They also put greater strength on the candidate needs and how the candidate and the company search for talent can help one another, rather than simply seeing candidates as a paycheck.

When you engage with a smaller firm, you are dealing directly with the person who will work on your project. In contrast, at big search firms, the search may be directed by a “Partner,” while in fact a significant amount of the work is done by less tenured associates – people you have never met, and who have minimal knowledge of your company, your business challenges, and your goals. The results? Candidates who match the memo — not the spirit — of the job description, mis-hires who don’t fit your corporate culture, and poor performance in the future. And in a time where fit has become the new mantra, with cultural sensitivity trumping a candidate’s skill set, you don’t want to make the mistake of hiring the wrong person.

Christopher Hunt, co-founder and president of Hunt Scanlon, said: “Specialization is a big part of the appeal of the boutique search provider. As big firms have expanded, with several now publicly traded, feeding the bottom line has naturally become a paramount business concern. The boutiques, meanwhile, have more leeway to concentrate on getting to know the ins and outs of any given sector, giving them perhaps a leg up on better understanding the culture of their client companies.”

Outsourcing executive talent search to a firm will dramatically increase the chances of finding the best executive the first time. When considering the options of a small versus a large search firm, review all the differences in service and effectiveness to find the firm that most closely aligns with your company’s needs. Ultimately, the firm you select should guarantee that they will find the right candidate, within a reasonable time frame, at a predictable cost. This will provide peace of mind in knowing that the executive search firm stands behind its work.

TD Madison & Associates specializes in finding executive technical talent for the cable and telecom industries. They are a small, boutique search firm, with big experience (over three decades’ worth) operating on the premise that truly exceptional companies have truly exceptional leaders. They serve as a corporate executive partner who focuses on aligning leadership teams for long-term sustainability and continued success. Their clients have included emerging growth firms and Fortune 500 companies, for which they’ve assembled and built executive teams that are balanced, compatible, and poised for growth.