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Going the Distance: Embedded Executive Search

by Matthew Jaquiss

Head of Executive Search & Research 13th Apr 2017

Now a $15 billion industry, the global business community has largely accepted that outsourcing their Talent needs to a professional firm allows them to concentrate on what they are specialists in and leave matters such as candidate sourcing and talent management to global experts, who live and breathe this on a daily basis.

Until recently, firms have only been comfortable outsourcing their talent acquisition from graduate intake to middle management but things are changing in the market; increasingly firms are outsourcing their executive hiring to teams of on-site head-hunters.

It is important to note that it is not that firms believe their graduate talent acquisition strategy isn’t as important to get right as their executive hiring; it is simply the way the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) market has evolved, from the bottom up with its beginnings in 1996 with CEO & Founder of Alexander Mann Solutions, Rosaleen Blair. This is where the volume hiring requirement is, and is often the largest expense because of the scale involved. It is natural for a firm making thousands of hires annually to want to ensure that this is done by professionals with access to a huge global team of sourcing and talent acquisition experts.

"Many leading, global businesses that have chosen to outsource their executive recruitment recognise the benefits as clear and compelling."

So, why are firms now outsourcing their senior management and executive hiring programmes to talent acquisition experts? It would appear from recent research that many firms now recognise the benefits of embedded executive talent acquisition solutions. More importantly it would appear that there is a very real requirement to get the hiring right. Forbes Magazine stated that “nearly half (46%) of executive hires fail within eighteen months”. The impact of executives failing at this level is well documented; the cost (both financial and otherwise) of getting hires wrong at this level is enormous. According to the Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association, “the cost of upper level managers (staff) turnover is between 200 and 250% of basic salary”.

To me, as frightening as this 46% statistic is, the really insightful and helpful number is this; only 11% of these executives fail because of their technical ability or due to the lack of the required skill set. What this says to me is that firms are adept at hiring against a skill set; interviewers are rarely making mistakes in hiring people that can’t actually do the job. Where the executive fails in by far the majority of cases is their ability to do the job in that environment. In that culture. With those people. With that agenda and that trajectory.

External Executive Search professionals – head-hunters - are briefed (often as part of the ‘beauty parade’) by organisations on exactly what type of individual they seek, including education, skills, background, sector/market knowledge and the type of person that would ‘fit in’. This is primarily done to ensure the researcher or head-hunter can confidently approach individuals and counter any pre or mis-conceptions and, of course, answer all of the obvious questions.

Compare this briefing, perhaps an hour or two at most, to actually working there. Compare that hour or two to sitting in the client’s premises day in, day out as part of the team. External head-hunters are told what it is like to work there. Embedded headhunters know what it is like to work there. This is one of the compelling reasons why companies are embracing embedded Executive talent acquisition strategies; this deep knowledge reduces attrition at all levels, including executive hires.

The fact that embedded head-hunters are on the premises of that organisation doesn’t just mean that they know the culture, personalities and foibles of the firm they represent, it means much more to both the client and the candidate experience. An embedded head-hunter who can bring to life working for that particular organisation has more information to share and can get the passive candidate engaged from the outset. An example cropped up recently in our own embedded onsite Alexander Mann Solutions team when one of our reluctant head-hunted candidates questioned our researcher about that particular firm’s work/life balance.


As an external head-hunter, that is actually a tricky question to answer (I know, I was one for twenty years). What can you say, except something like ‘yes, the company I represent encourages a positive work life balance’? What our embedded researcher was able to relay was that “you are actively discouraged from attending the office premises for more than three days per week”; that “they make it difficult to book desk space for more than sixty per cent of the working week” and “the person they sit next to has two kids and does the school run both ends of the day and is a successful Partner in the firm”.

Small details can make the difference.

As vital as it is to get the hires right in the first place (a problem which partnering with experts in talent acquisition is beginning to solve at the senior level) there are more benefits to the hiring organisation which can be equally compelling.

But what about the bottom line?

I haven’t even mentioned cost (mainly because for most firms it is more important to get the executive hiring right than to save money) but this can often be delivered while reducing spend.

Many leading, global businesses that have chosen to outsource their executive recruitment recognise the benefits as clear and compelling. Less time to hire. Less attrition. Greater attraction. Greater experience.

Notes: By ‘executive hiring’ we refer to those employees earning basic salaries which often start at £100,000 or more.


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