Executive Search Vs DIY – Weighing Up Your Best Option

At the risk of sounding like a full-on sales pitch, we thought we would point out the pros and cons of using an executive search firm and what we have called ‘DIY’ executive recruitment. Why? Because one of the biggest misconceptions amongst our clients is that it is ‘just a case of putting out the feelers.’ Many then go off and attempt to fill key, business-critical, leadership, director-level roles themselves – the DIY route.

Now, there are instances where this has worked, with fantastic results. But in our experience, these are the exception rather than the rule. Executive hiring is like lots of things in business; it pays to bring in experts to do something that is outside of your core skill set. And there is another well-worn phrase that springs to mind – you get what you pay for.

In the case of running a business with aggressive growth targets, wouldn’t you want to pay for the best?

Here are some of the arguments for and against bringing in the professionals:


1)    Speed of hiring


A common assumption is that hiring from within their existing network will be much faster than an executive search process. A word of caution, with the DIY method, it is likely to take longer than you think. Either that, or you will cut corners.

A professional firm will run a process that they have honed and will retain momentum. It will have critical milestones, regular updates, and a deadline.

With an average of 85 hours spent on research alone, our own search process will leave no stone unturned with as many as 50 – 100, sometimes more, long-list candidates. Yet our typical executive search turnaround time is between 6 – 8 weeks.

A DIY approach often drags on with no one focused on keeping it on track


2)    Quality and quantity of candidates


The DIY approach assumes that, between the CEO, the investor and their combined networks, there must be someone that is right for the job. Doesn’t there? Well yes, there might be, but how many people have you considered – two, three, ten?

And are they right, or just readily available?

An executive search firm will scour every inch of the market before shortlisting several of the highest-quality candidates. They will have been thoroughly qualified: Are they excited by the opportunity? Do they have the technical ability? Will they fit with the culture? Is the location and package right? What does their previous Chairman/investor/CEO have to say about them?

We also include something else, critical to success – culture. Will they mesh with the business, management team and investor?

Like Kirsty and Phil, we will also have a couple of aces up our sleeve, and backup options in case it all goes wrong. With the DIY version, you might get stuck with a 3-bed semi when careful researching of the market could have got you a 5-bed detached with a pool.

Going it alone will mean that your options are extremely limited.


3)    Getting to the ‘impossible to reach’ candidates


Small businesses may think they will never get the big hitters of their industry, so why bother with a long, costly process only to end up with ‘someone we could have got ourselves?’

Well, years of experience means we have the confidence to approach the big hitters – and land them. We will pick up the phone and position the opportunity correctly, enabling the business to meet more than just ‘who’s available.’

A good, confidential discussion with candidates will tell us about their circumstances, what drives them, and what might excite them about the opportunity. As an objective ‘middleman’ with plenty of time to tease out all the relevant information, candidates will open up and share their views with us.

It is hard to get this level of detail, understanding and honesty via the DIY route, when initial discussions are with their potential new employer. They go into ‘interview’ mode.

We do not make assumptions about what drives candidates, we talk to them and find out.


4)    Cost


The perceived cost of a DIY network hire is £0, which is always going to make the search fee look mountainous in comparison!

But come on, what is the genuine cost? If you do not have the right people in place, at the right time, what are the risks to the business? Why do you need this person in the first place? If it is to grow the business and generate increased returns on exit, you need to get started asap. If it is to run finance, negotiate with banks, control costs, they will have a significant impact on the bottom line.

If you are in a sticky situation, any delay will negatively impact business performance every day (and you might want to think about talking to us about interim!).

We are not scaremongering when we say that millions could be riding on this hire, so, really, what’s £40k on a search fee in the bigger picture? (It might not be that much!)

Do not think about cost, think about value – that is how you view all your business decisions.


5)    Value add


With the DIY approach, you just get the hire – if you are lucky.

By using a professional executive search firm, you are getting value added throughout the entire process, and beyond.

• Experienced executive recruiters, skilled at teasing out vital information

• Meticulously researched candidates, fully referenced with no surprises

• A shortlist of the best candidates in, and off, the market

• Careful management through to the offer stage, and beyond

• Ancillary services, such as advice on board composition, rewards benchmarking, access to peer networks, sharing of market insight and data and more besides

• And, most search firms, including us, offer some sort of guarantee as a safety net just in case anything does go wrong

Bringing in the experts will ensure that you really are meeting the best people and getting real value from the search fee.

‘Of course, you are going to say all this’ I hear you cry, ‘you are an executive search firm.’ This is true, but a service would not exist if there was no need for its existence.

Overall, the likelihood is that a search firm like us will end up with the work, whether it’s the first time around or after a failed DIY hiring attempt.

We would just rather get involved before the business has had to learn the ‘don’t go DIY’ lesson the hard way.


If the above has convinced you to call in the experts, rather than head down the DIY route (and quite possibly a rocky road), then please get in touch.

James Buckley


Marble Hill Partners