What are the Steps of the Executive Search Process?

Retained executive search firms all have unique methods, tools and approaches to managing client relations, completing deep market analysis and screening candidates. However, in the same way each professional executive recruitment firm adheres to a high level of ethical standards, a common outline for the recruitment process is often followed. As a client or potential candidate you should understand this methodology clearly as it will better position you as a partner to the executive search consultant throughout the hiring process.

1. Initial Client Meeting

The hiring client meets with the search consultant to outline the requirements, timelines, future organizational strategy and mission, and get an idea of the corporate company culture.

2. Deeper Client Analysis

The executive search firm will then begin a more thorough analysis of the hiring company, identifying key opportunities for the new executive, and defining a candidate profile that fits into the corporate culture and organizational structure - often this stage includes meeting key managers at the hiring organization.

3. Market Analysis & Creation of a Job Description

Following this step, the retained recruitment firm will complete a deep analysis of the market and create a compelling job profile. Market analysis will outline the competitive environment and influence the type of management profile the recruiter will look for.


This process often includes a team of highly skilled researchers and results in a document that will be a reference throughout the entire executive search process – the candidate specification. The candidate specification (job description) will contain detailed information about the role, responsibilities, the hiring client, key opportunities presented by the job, and outline educational requirements and career development opportunities.

4. Search Strategy

This stage will include a deeper analysis of the market, outlining key companies they may wish to research for executive talent, and documenting all avenues that will be exploited in order to gain access to the top talent in the marketplace. The research tools that form part of the search strategy will often include the executive search firm's own database, previously conducted market analysis, alternative internet sources such as social networks, and of course, their own network and contacts.

5. Name Generation & Candidate Identification

Within the executive search industry, the process of creating an industry/function wide map of talent and long-list of potential candidates is known as ‘name generation’ or ‘talent mapping’. After they have a number of high potential senior managers listed (sometimes 100+), consultants and researchers will begin qualifying the potential targets and identifying whether they are suitable candidates.

6. Approach, Qualify & Interview to Create a Short List

A series of internal meetings will continue throughout the candidate identification process and the number of potential candidates will be reduced to 10 at most. This shortlist is achieved through detailed interviews that discuss the specifics of the job, and explore the candidates’ background, competencies and interest in the role. Many executive recruitment firms apply their own specific methods of client qualification at this stage.

7. Basic Referencing, Present Short List to the Client

Before any candidate is presented to the client, a search firms will complete basic background checking to verify their qualifications and the career background of the selected candidate. Provided there are no problems (modifications if there are) the shortlist will be presented to the client.

8. Narrow to 3-5, Thorough Referencing

Following meetings at the previous stage, the client will work with the executive recruiter to narrow the candidate shortlist to just 3-5 potential senior executives. At this stage the search firm will begin thorough reference checks, and provide final thoughts on strengths and weaknesses about each candidate.

9. Offer & Contract Negotiation

After a series of interviews and consideration of external references, the client will select their preferred candidate and the process of salary and offer negotiation will commence. Often the consultant will act as a mediator in this process to ensure both parties’ needs are being met.

10. Onboarding & Integration

Finally the retained search firm will assist with the integration (onboarding) of the successful candidate into the workplace - the degree of involvement varies depending on the wishes of HR and agreements made earlier in the search process. Although the search has been successfully completed, the recruitment agency will continue to maintain close ties with the hiring client and senior executive to ensure long term satisfaction for both parties.