The difference between recruitment and executive search

Amanda Baggott our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 12 July 2023

Recruitment and executive search are two terms that are often used interchangeably in the context of hiring new employees, but they have some key differences. But firstly…

What is executive search?

While recruitment is a generic term for the overall process of finding and hiring candidates for open positions, executive search is a specialised form of recruitment. It focuses solely on finding highly qualified candidates for senior-level or executive positions within a company. 


Executive search firms, like Hanover, typically have a deep understanding of the industry and market we are working in, and we use a more targeted approach to identify potential candidates. We also use our vast networks of industry contacts and referrals to find the best candidates for your firm.

Executive search vs. recruitment: 6 key differences

1. Executive search focuses on senior, high-performing talent

Recruitment focuses on filling all types and levels of positions within an organisation, often with people who are actively searching for new opportunities, while executive search is specifically focused on finding top-level talent for senior or executive positions. 


Typically, these people are happy in their roles, so they need to be expertly dealt with to consider a move. If the approach and/or experience is poor, this lessens the chance of them considering the role.

2. A different mandate

Recruitment can be done in-house by an organisation's HR department or outsourced to recruitment agencies, while executive search is almost always outsourced to specialised executive search firms. 


The benefit of using an executive search firm in this context is that they have a deep well of expertise to draw on and can contextualise the candidates by drawing on this expertise.

3. A more targeted approach

Recruitment often relies on more general advertising and job postings to attract candidates, while executive search firms always use a more targeted and strategic approach - including a deep network of industry contacts - to identify and attract top-level candidates.


How an opportunity is positioned, how you communicate with senior decision-makers and your brand and positioning in the market all contribute to whether the person you are targeting will be open to a new career conversation.

4. Executive search brings specialised expertise

Recruitment may be handled by general HR professionals or recruiters, while executive search firms employ experienced recruiters with specialised knowledge in finding executive-level talent and experience in specific industries.


Additionally, some positions firms are looking to fill or refill are confidential, and having an outsourced, expert partner can support this need for confidentiality.

5. Cost and value parameters

For certain roles, and level of seniority recruitment can be less expensive, however failure to recruit within a given timeframe, plus impact and challenges on internal resources often means the true cost of a ‘recruitment solution’ is significantly more. You will get a vastly different pool of candidates if you use your in-house talent team or an external recruiter than you’ll get from an executive search firm. While executive search can sometimes involve higher fees, that’s due to the specialised expertise and resources required to find top-level talent. And once you have your high-performing talent, they will help to drive your business forward - ultimately paying for themselves many times over.

6. Speed vs. quality

Recruitment is often more focused on filling positions quickly, while executive search takes a longer-term approach to finding the right talent. It’s not about hiring the first person who kind-of fits the bill, it’s about turning over every stone until you find the one that will help you lay a strong foundation.

Why partner with an executive search firm?

Executive search firms don’t simply find candidates who are actively job seeking. We find passive job seekers - or even those who aren’t looking for a new role, often with very specialist or technical skills and competencies - who can make a positive impact on your company and really hit the ground running at senior level. Put simply, you get better access to better talent.


Partnering with an executive search firm reduces the risk of a bad hire, allows you to have more consistent, planned communication with your executive search partner  - making for a collaborative experience - and is a more confidential process, which is beneficial if you’re hiring into a sensitive or high-profile position.


But the main draw of executive search over recruitment is the guaranteed result - and that’s especially important when senior talent is critical to your success, as these individuals are often responsible for driving strategy, making important decisions and leading teams.


If you need to fill a senior level position at your company, contact us today and one of our executive search experts will be in touch.

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