At the risk of sounding like a full on sales pitch, we thought we’d point out the pro’s and con’s of using an executive search firm against what we’ve called ‘DIY’ executive recruitment.

Why?  Because one of the biggest misconceptions amongst our clients is that it’s ‘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’s 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’s likely to take longer than you think.  Either that, or you’ll 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 has to be someone that’s 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 really 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’ll also have a couple of aces up our sleeve, and back-up 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’ve got you a 5 bed detached with a pool.

Going it alone will mean that your options are very, very 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 actually, years of experience means we have the confidence to approach the big hitters – and land them.  We’ll 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, 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’s 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 don’t 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’s the real cost?  If you don’t 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’s to grow the business and generate increased returns on exit, you need to get started asap.  If it’s to run finance, negotiate with banks, control costs, they will have a huge impact on the bottom line.

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

We’re not scaremongering when we say that literally millions could be riding on this hire, so, really, what’s £50k on a search fee in the bigger picture?  [£50k is not the industry or our standard fee – the fee will depend on the search].

Don’t think about cost, think about value – after all, that’s how you view other business decisions


5           Added extras

With the DIY approach, you just get the hire – if you’re 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
  • Properly 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’re going to say all this’ I hear you cry, ‘you are an executive search firm’.  This is true. 

But in the long run, we will end up with the work, whether it’s first time round or after a failed DIY hiring attempt.

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


Sam Smith, Managing Director