The 12 Steps of the Ideal Executive Search Process

We explore the recruitment specialism of executive search and examine the steps involved in conducting a successful process. 

What is Executive Search? 

Executive search (or sometimes referred to as headhunting) is a specialised recruitment service focused on sourcing candidates for senior level or executive positions.

Work is normally conducted on a retained basis and can involve an upfront fee. Consultants work proactively with a special focus on passive candidates (professionals not actively seeking a new role).

Typically, executive search recruiters do not rely on traditional methods of sourcing such as job advertising.

1. Client Research

Before you meet with the client you should carry out extensive research to achieve a thorough understanding of how their organisation is viewed externally.

This includes: 

  • Corporate history  
  • Products & services  
  • Leadership & strategy  
  • Organisational strengths and weaknesses 
  • Employer brand 

2. Client Mandate

The second part of the executive search process is the client meeting. Here you should meet with the HR team and/or the relevant hiring manager.

The aim is to better understand: 

  • the company’s unique working environment, succession planning issues, diversity challenges, culture and values  
  • the team dynamics, working style and approach  
  • the specific role requirements from a technical and managerial perspective 

From this you should produce detailed vacancy notes to support the applicant selection process. 

Done well, this stage enables you to work as an effective advocate for your client in the marketplace, accurately representing and promoting its employer brand.

3. Profile Creation

Create an ideal candidate profile based on the research conducted during stages one and two of the executive search process. This will form the basis of the search and selection stages.

The profile should focus on the technical, professional, managerial and cultural aspects of the ideal candidate.

In addition to the main responsibilities and requirement of the role, the profile supports the job description used in any external advertising (if used).

4. Market Mapping

Taking the ideal candidate profile and your client’s unique requirements as your starting points, map the market across geographies, industries, competitors and any suitable internal candidates.

This will help to identify appropriate target companies, their organisational structures, key individuals and role profiles.

Special attention should be paid to companies and individuals which match or complement your client’s organisation and the role(s) in scope.

5. Candidate Search

You should make use of a range of innovative attraction techniques, targeting both active and passive candidates.

This could include referral and recommendation, proprietary database search, job portals, industry-focused advertising, professional forums and social media.

Your overriding goal should be to identify the best possible candidate(s) for the role, not the most actively available.

Depending on your client’s requirements, you may wish to extend your search beyond the domestic market.

6. Candidate Longlist

From the research carried out during the market mapping stage, present your client with a long list of up to 10 candidates, including internal candidates if appropriate.

This report should include names, companies, positions, responsibilities and contact details, as well as notes on the suitability of each candidate.

7. Candidate Testing

Candidate testing plays a crucial part in the executive search process, providing an objective assessment of the individual’s key competencies and preferred working style.

There are a huge range of providers available, covering a whole host of different tests.

Assessments cover technical or theoretical expertise, cognitive ability, personality and emotional intelligence.

Whichever provider you choose, ensure the tests provide an engaging, straightforward and positive user experience for the candidate.

8. Candidate Shortlist

Present the client with a shortlist of around 2-4 candidates. Accompany this with a detailed report.

The report should include candidate CVs, analysis and the results of the testing conducted during the previous stage.

You should also include consultant notes based on your own candidate pre-screening.

9. Interviews

Design a robust and consistent interview framework based on your client’s specific requirements.

Depending on the location of the candidates, this stage may involve a combination of telephone, video conferencing and physical interviews.

If appropriate, take a lead role in each interview or provide support in the form of organising, monitoring and reviewing the separate stages of the interview process.

10. Offer & Acceptance

The offer stage can be beset with pitfalls and bear traps.

Managing this effectively can mean the difference between hiring the best person or having to start the lengthy and costly executive search process all over again.

Once the successful candidate has accepted the offer help maintain dialogue between your client and its new hire.

An experienced mediator you will ensure any negotiations are smooth and ultimately successful. This will protect against the risk of a successful counter offer – and even competing offer.

Done effectively, this not only mitigates the risk of dropout but also increases the opportunity for the candidate to hit the ground running when they begin their new role.

11. Candidate Vetting

Vetting is a critical stage in the executive search process.

High standards of communication between the background check provider, your client and the candidate are crucial in speeding up completion times, mitigating the risk of applicant dropout and enhancing the employer brand.

We use Core-Asset Verify, our own dedicated candidate vetting service with international reach.

Based on the client’s specific requirements, we design procedures which are robust, transparent and uniform, ensuring new hires are compliant to begin work.

12. Onboarding & Relocation

a. Onboarding

Ideally, you should encourage the client to use a digital contract management service which utilises state-of-the-art technology for a fast and efficient process.

This should include document download and upload facilities and a legally-binding electronic signature system.

We use our own in-house contract management services. It combines the latest technology supported by readily-available expert consultants to ensure the very best applicant journey.

b. Relocation

If the successful candidate has been sourced from overseas you should give careful consideration to whether you or the client will provide relocation support.

Even this late in the executive search process the candidate can still dropout if he or she feels they are not being given adequate assistance.

Support can range from providing information on the local property market, schools, nurseries and other local amenities to organising a familiarisation visit, a search for a new home or even a full concierge service.

We work with our partner, a relocation specialist, ensuring regular communication with the candidate throughout the process.


Thorough research surrounding the hiring organisation, its market and the ideal candidate needs to form the basis of any comprehensive search and selection framework.

The ideal executive search process should be tailored to meet the demands of recruiting across different time zones and multiple geographies.

It should place the client at the centre, providing regular reporting and complete transparency.

High levels of engagement should be in place to ensure candidates receive the very best experience, helping protect and promote the client’s employer brand.

Executive Search at Core-Asset Consulting

A compelling alternative to traditional executive search models, our exclusive assignment service lies at the very heart of our recruitment offering.

It provides financial and professional services firms with the best candidates from across the globe – against a specified timeline, within an agreed budget, and supported by regular reporting.

But what differentiates it most from executive search is, in return for exclusivity, we can often offer a no-hire-no-fee pricing structure basis.*

Acting exclusively on your behalf, we provide your candidates with a positive, consistent and engaging experience, while relieving you of the administrative burden of managing a lengthy and complex recruitment process.

*Please note – if the role(s) requires extensive research, an upfront retainer fee may be required. 

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