Executive search enables organisations to find and engage highly skilled senior executive talent, from a wide pool of candidates who may not be actively looking for a job.

In last week’s post, myself and my search colleagues Eoin and Janet discussed the merits of working with an executive search firm. In this week’s post, I wanted to explore the three key stages of a search process, as well as the typical timelines you can expect, from the point of developing a brief to the moment the successful candidate starts their new role.

1. Discovery

The first stage of the executive search process is about determining the skills and attributes of the ideal candidate and conducting targeted research to pull together a long list of people who meet the requirements. Typically, this takes place over one to two weeks.

The process begins with myself working with the organisation to establish the search priorities. This covers the challenges unique to the organisation and the role, as well as the skills, knowledge, and abilities the right candidate will need to succeed.

At this stage, an organisation may have a strong idea of the kind of candidate they want to attract, and it is my job to listen to their requirements and advise on the most effective strategy to ensure I deliver the most suitable talent. However, where I can add value to the process is discussing the current industry issues, fostering ideas and creative thinking to bring a fresh perspective and insight on how the organisation can think about their needs. And when appropriate, will challenge the organisation's assumptions and present alternative ideas for how to conceive a role.

Once the search priorities have been established, a customised brief is developed outlining the company, the role, responsibilities, goals and key challenges of the position, as well as the experience, qualifications, and competencies required for success.

Our research team will then conduct targeted market mapping to find people who match the brief. From their research, they will develop a long list of potential candidates (circa 100-200), providing real options for the organisation to consider. They will then qualify prospects to prioritise, before approaching them.

2. Assessment

Once a prioritised list of prospects has been developed, myself and the research team will meet with and evaluate candidates. This is the start of the assessment stage, which usually takes anywhere between three and eight weeks, depending on the number of candidates identified and the complexity of the role.

We will first test candidates’ interest in the role and draw on insights about candidates’ own goals and aspirations to eliminate those that are unlikely to be persuaded to accept a new role, or consider new opportunities.

They will then conduct rigorous competency-based and technical interviews with interested candidates based on the skills, knowledge, and competencies outlined in the position specification. Here I will also look for whether the individual would be the right cultural fit for the organisation.

Alongside the interviews, we will draw on informal external views on each candidate to confirm and enhance their knowledge of their achievements and track record to provide meaningful insight into past performance and reputation.

All this data is analysed, and a detailed synopsis is written for each candidate. A shortlist of the most suitable candidates is presented to the organisation, and we arrange for them to interview the candidates face-to-face, either at our offices or theirs.

3. Hire

After the interviews have taken place, hopefully, the organisation should be ready to select and hire their preferred candidate. The hiring stage itself can often take up to four weeks. As at this point, I will conduct thorough background checks and referencing to further assess competencies, strengths and weaknesses, and to provide further external views of the individual.

Assuming there are no red flags, I will assist in negotiations over salary, compensation, and other terms to help conclude the search. But the relationship doesn’t end there. I then keep in regular communication with the organisation and the candidate during the transition period and will continue to follow up with them periodically for at least the first year to check ongoing fit and success.


A good executive search firm will listen to the requirements of the organisation and use their own functional expertise and sector knowledge to build a search criteria, before mapping the market to identify a shortlist of top talent who meet that criteria. They then adopt a rigorous process of referencing and assessment, before presenting the organisation with a final shortlist from which the preferred candidate is selected, and then hired. Typically, the executive search process can take up to 12 weeks.


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