BSG From the Boardroom

A curated selection of executive opportunities, industry highlights, and unique insights in executive search.

    Large Search Firms vs. Small, Which Is Better?


    All executive search firms are not created equal. Hunt Scanlon Media performed a study surveying more than 1,000 human resource professionals and executive search consultants about how the industry operates. The study says, “independent recruiters, those boutique specialists concentrating on just a small number of business sectors, are truly redefining a field once dominated by a handful of large, generalist search firms.”

    A common misconception is that larger firms must have more resources and therefore a wider search net. In reality, it’s the processes and methodologies used for the search that determine its success. Companies come to BSG when they’re tired of getting more results and want to get better ones.

    -Methodology. How does each firm assess candidates for a position? A big rolodex at a large firm seems like an asset, but the real test is how well a firm can match talent to your company’s needs. Monica Hamori, PhD candidate at Wharton, found in her research on search firm assessment that few firms have a standardized way of assessing candidates and often it can vary even within partners at a single firm.

    BSG has a candidate “scorecard” for every search. We work with the client to develop a list of their must-haves, and their would-be-nice qualifications. That card is used to moderate not only the search process itself, but also the success of the candidate after hiring. Read our blog post here about maximizing the first 90 days of a new executive’s term.

    -Specialization. The Hunt study says, “Specialization is a big part of the appeal of the boutique search provider. As big firms have expanded, with several now publicly traded, feeding the bottom line has naturally become a paramount business concern. The boutiques, meanwhile, have more leeway to concentrate on getting to know the ins and outs of any given sector, giving them perhaps a leg up on better understanding the culture of their client companies.”

    At BSG, we’ve found the key balance in honing sector expertise without boxing in opportunities. At larger search firms, recruiting for one healthcare client might mean contractual limitations on other candidates or clients in the healthcare industry, which limits the talent pool and flexibility. BSG has polished specialization in Private Equity, Healthcare Services and IT, Education, Energy, Venture Capital and others, without conflicts of interest that might interfere with placements.

    -Relationships. With a large search firm there are more hands at work, but often the brunt of searches gets delegated to junior associates. A boutique search firm with a tighter staff means a principle, or even a CEO like myself, is likely handling your search. This allows the talent management to spend more time getting to know your company and your needs, rather than filling your information into a standard form.

    The small but dedicated force also means the staff is spending more time thinking about the relationships a candidate will have with an employer, not just whether their resume checks a few boxes. According to the Hunt study, “Fit, these recruiters say, has become the new mantra, with cultural sensitivity triumphing a candidate’s skill set. These search specialists say they are uniquely qualified to be more responsive to these new requirements.”

     -Accountability. Because you know exactly which person is handling your search in a small firm, there’s a greater accountability when things don’t go as planned. This also serves as a motivating tool to deliver the best possible results. In a large firm, a loss or two on a long roster of clients is expected. At a small firm where a principle talent manager is working one-on-one with the client, the personal investment in finding a match is greater.

    More and more the question is becoming, should we use a search firm or conduct our search in house? The Hunt survey says, “Heads of talent acquisition are becoming more accepting and reliant of these specialists [boutique firms] running their mission critical search assignments. Our report indicates, in fact, they are driving the trend." If you are going to use a search firm, wouldn’t you want that money spent on the best possible results?

    -by Clark Waterfall on Feb 9, 2018 12:09:00 PM


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