Executive-level talent vs. non-executive level talent searches: A new dynamic

Apr 20, 2022 | Article

Unique labor market conditions mean your company should consider all of its available options for recruiting candidates, including retained and hybrid searches.

The labor market is currently in the midst of some truly unique circumstances, with historic unemployment and a glut of job openings giving unprecedented leverage to professionals with highly-demanded skill sets. Amidst this talent shortage, recruiting teams have responded with novel approaches to these challenges.

A dependable and effective staffing firm can go a long way toward supporting your company's talent needs, regardless of market conditions. The combined knowledge and experience of recruiters and the professionals who support them can be exceptionally useful. These firms can also work with their clients to develop recruitment and retention strategies that meet the demands of uncertainty across industries.

Considering all of the available options for recruitment is vital for success in such conditions. With overabundant demand for skilled employees, turning to a retained search model for acquiring non-executive talent is a pertinent place to start.

The traditional approach to talent acquisition

Broadly speaking, there are three types of talent searches that recruiters commonly use to deliver new workers to a partner business. They are:

Contingent search

A contingency search is the basic model traditionally used for most efforts to hire new staff members below the highest levels of a business — directors, vice-presidents and members of the C-suite. It is broadly used by both large and small companies in many industries and economic sectors.

Factors that set a contingency search apart from other options for talent acquisition include:

  • A non-exclusive process: Businesses may work with multiple staffing firms to identify and onboard candidates, as well as utilize internal recruiting teams and referral networks. The benefit to this option is volume, as it allows the greatest number of resources to be engaged at one time, theoretically expanding the pool of potential candidates as much as possible.
  • Just one payment: Businesses only have to pay their partner recruiters when and if a suitable candidate is delivered. The cost is generally set as a percentage of the new worker's first-year salary.
  • Lower touch compared to other options: Retained and hybrid searches involve an especially high degree of communication between the recruiting firm and partner business, reflecting the structure of and financial commitment inherent in those efforts. Contingent searches still involve and put a priority on effective communication, but such efforts do not rise to the same level.

Retained search

Retained search is generally used for recruiting staff at the highest levels of a business. However, it is also quickly becoming an effective and popular option for identifying and hiring employees at lower levels who have in-demand talents and professional knowledge.

This type of search is built on a high degree of communication between the recruiter and partner organization. Other key distinguishing factors include:

  • An exclusive process: The recruiter serves as the only entity authorized to identify and evaluate candidates to pass along for final approval.
  • Frequent communication: Partner businesses remain informed thanks to recruiters regularly sharing detailed information about potential candidates, progress in the search and other aspects of the process.
  • Emphasizes confidentiality: Businesses and candidates for high-level positions may both have reasons for not wanting to advertise their interest in recruiting or applying for such a role. The retained search model focuses on discretion.
  • A three-stage payment process: Payment for retained searches includes the initial retainer — where the name of the search type comes from — as well as a midpoint payment and a final payment after the candidate is delivered.

Hybrid search

Hybrid search is not completely distinct and separate from other talent acquisition processes. Rather, it combines elements of contingent and retained searches that support positive outcomes in terms of attracting higher-level talent.

Key elements of hybrid search include:

  • Flexibility: Organizations can choose to let their partner firms handle all aspects of talent identification and acquisition. Alternatively, they can bring their own resources to bear, such as referral networks.
  • A high level of contact: Recruiters will provide regular, in-depth updates that take the specifics of the position and the partner company's needs into account.
  • A two-stage payment process: Compensation includes an initial retainer and a final fee paid after a candidate is delivered. Businesses don't need to make that final payment if a candidate is sourced through an internal referral network or direct application.

An effective approach for a unique labor market

In normal conditions, contingent search has been the default method for any position below the director level. There is no specific rule that enforces such a structure, beyond the general effectiveness of each search for a specific type of position.

However, in the current labor market, changes to traditional strategies can lead to more suitable outcomes. If your company's goal is to acquire employees who have advanced, in-demand knowledge and skillsets, retained and hybrid searches can support successful hiring efforts. The high-touch nature of these searches keeps all stakeholders informed and focused on recruiting the best possible candidates.

How your company chooses to move forward with talent searches in these extraordinary times can have a major influence on the future of its operations as a whole. Extra attention paid to aligning the talents and competencies of valuable prospects with the key responsibilities of the open position in question could mean highly favorable results.

How has the current labor market influenced talent searches?

A survey conducted by Harris Poll, on behalf of CNBC and gender equality firm Catalyst, found that fully half of all U.S. workers want to make a career change due to the direct and indirect influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Common motivating factors for this decision noted in the survey include:

  • Current employers failing to address concerns related to working during a pandemic.
  • A general desire to have a more flexible schedule and a fully remote work environment.

Beacon Hill's own recruiters have noted some related concerns among job seekers. That includes issues related to an employer's approach to or lack of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and the general social values demonstrated by a current employer. Our teams have also recognized a desire for strong work-from-home policies that support hybrid and completely remote positions, just as the Harris Poll survey did. Despite Beacon Hill clients having posted almost triple the volume of remote working opportunities in 2021 than in the prior year, the current candidate pool is hyper-focused on gaining flexibility in their schedules and working environments.

Meanwhile, the median advertised salary among our clients increased 8.9% in the same time frame. This underscores the widely cited anecdote that businesses are paying higher wages to attract top talent. With skilled candidates requiring additional effort to attract and hire, it's important to think about priorities for recruitment beyond pay and traditional benefits. Skilled candidates often hold additional leverage in the current job market, meaning they have the power to be selective and hold out for the best possible offer. The entirety of your company's culture has to be considered in this regard, with everything that could discourage or negatively affect a new hire taken into account and addressed.

The increased willingness on the part of candidates to seek out a new job in a familiar industry, or jump to an entirely new role and field, is a key reason for companies to reassess their hiring strategies. Considering the type of talent search used may be vital for continued success.

Let's take a closer look at how retained and hybrid search efforts can support efficient hiring for a wide variety of roles.

What are the benefits of retained and hybrid search for non-executive roles?

Retained and hybrid searches are distinct models, although they share many common qualities. When it comes to recruiting highly skilled employees outside of director-level roles and the C-suite, the high degree of commitment offered by recruiters in retained and hybrid searches can be especially valuable.

Regular conversations about the role and specifics related to it, regular updates about the progression of candidates through the talent pipeline and frequent communication in general, support more informed and effective decision-making for all stakeholders in the talent acquisition process. Consider these specific advantages of using retained and hybrid search for non-executive roles:

An emphasis on frequent updates

When conducting a contingent search, an effective level of communication is established, but it generally does not rise to the level of what is expected in retained and hybrid efforts. During a time when desirable candidates may be actively courted by several recruiters and receive a number of competitive offers in a short period of time, extensive interactions between the recruiter and partner company can help steer the process toward positive results.

It's easier to make adjustments, discuss common issues noted by applicants who turn down offers, gather deep information about the general sentiment of the candidate pool, and accomplish other tasks requiring in-depth conversations when using these recruiting models.

Valuable recruiter connections

The existing, and extensive, connections that recruiters have with talent markets create significant advantages for businesses. The broad experience of talent acquisition firms, across several clients and business sectors, offers additional insight beyond what an internal hiring or HR team could reasonably be expected to provide.

A strong understanding of current conditions can support all searches, especially in hybrid and retained approaches. Your company can make a strategic effort to leave no stone unturned in hiring new staff by leveraging these resources.

Ensuring recruiters remain accountable

It's important to note that retained and hybrid searches give businesses the power to hold recruiters responsible. The initial payments provided in these searches represent a commitment on the part of hiring firms to provide relevant, effective and desirable candidates. Your company can and should expect more out of recruiters when using a hybrid or retained recruiting model.

Demonstrating commitment to candidates

Applying the principles of retained and hybrid searches to what is normally a contingent recruiting process can also demonstrate value to candidates.

Once they learn that there is just one firm conducting the search, or that recruiters frequently speak to the partner business about progress, they may feel satisfied that your company is fully invested in filling the open role. The additional attention given to candidates, as well as the increased discretion around recruiting communications, can also lead to positive perceptions on their part.

How your company can make the most of retained and hybrid searches

While talent acquisition firms take the lead in talent searches, your organization can take certain steps to support their efforts and the realization of effective results. As you start your next hybrid or retained search, be sure to:

  • Remain open to frequent communication: Make sure any requested data is quickly made available and share any new developments that could influence the search or its priorities.
  • Offer details early on: Make as much information available about the open position as possible, and don't stop with the core job responsibilities and basic compensation. Be sure to discuss company culture, team structure, DEI initiatives, work-from-home policies and more with your recruiter.
  • Discuss the reality of the labor market: It's possible that your ideas about attractive compensation or employee priorities may not fully align with the desires of candidates in such a unique job market. Take the reasonable recommendations of your firm into account — they have a broad yet deep understanding of candidate priorities and the factors that matter most to those potential recruits when they consider a new position.

Effectively source talent in an extraordinary market

Beacon Hill brings plenty of advantages to each and every talent acquisition project on which our recruiters work. Deep networks, extensive backgrounds in recruiting, the ability to source diverse talent from nontraditional pipelines and more can all help you address your company's hiring needs.

To learn more about working with our dependable and experienced recruiters, get in touch with us today.

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