Using an executive search firm is one way to fill a leadership vacancy in your company. But is it the best and most cost-effective option?

Many organizations use top executive search firms because they always have. Or, perhaps they never knew a better way to tap into proven leadership talent. No fault to them—they’ve simply never realized there was another alternative.

Truth be told, there are several reasons why using an executive search firm may not be the smartest route to lock in the leadership you need. Here’s what top executive search firms will never tell you:

The Hidden Downsides with a Traditional Executive Search

  • It’s costly. You’ll pay for executive search placement fees, heavy markups, retainer fees, job boards, recruiters time, background checks, vetting, interviews and screenings—costs that add up quickly when you’re looking for just the right leadership skills and experience. Furthermore, the cost of a full-time hire will require an additional 30% (on average) for benefits, above and beyond the executive salary.

  • It’s time-consuming. Between vetting candidates, conducting interviews, checking backgrounds and making decisions, it can take months (sometimes up to a year) to fill an executive role. Meanwhile, critical projects aren’t getting done, vital decisions are delayed, and strategic work isn’t getting the immediate attention it deserves. That’s a big problem with potentially harmful results.

  • There’s a limited talent pool. Executive search firms have fewer qualified executives to pull from because their network is comprised of only those leaders who want full-time jobs. Strategic talent advisory companies (like Cerius) can access a much broader network, which means you have a better chance of finding your unicorn.

  • There’s no guarantee of success (and certainly no way out). Beyond the time and expense, there’s no guarantee that the leader you bring on board will be a good fit for your organization for the long term. If the leader proves to be a poor fit, you have few options but to go back to the drawing board with your executive search firm. You’ll need to start the costly, time-consuming process all over again, with the same risks, while the search firm collects their ongoing fees.

A Smart Alternative: Interim Executives

One secret weapon for many companies in Europe (and also a growing number in the U.S.) is the use of interim and fractional/part-time executives. Here’s why an interim, fractional or project-based executive is a faster, cheaper and better alternative to traditional full-time placement:

  • Faster: You can get interim executives in place quickly—with resumes of vetted executives on your desk within a week. That’s significantly faster than trying to hire a full-time leader the traditional way.
  • Higher quality candidates: Interim executives are highly seasoned individuals with years (if not decades) of experience.
  • No long-term commitment: With an interim executive, you get assistance when you need it—and only for as long as you want it. So you can bring on an interim executive for just one project, on a seasonal basis, or for several years.
  • Less expensive: There are no job postings, no lost time by recruiters, no lagging projects sitting undone, and no need to pay 30% in benefits (on average) on top of a full-time salary. You get more bang for your buck.

  • Proven results: With an interim executive placed immediately, you get the same level of executive experience and proven results as you would from a full-time hire, but often with more laser focus, since they aren’t distracted by other aspects of a full-time position.
  • More nimble: Interim executives can be deployed immediately to address your most critical needs. And if the leader isn’t a fit, they can be swapped out quickly—keeping your company making progress and moving forward.
  • Executive test drive: By bringing in an interim, fractional/part-time or project-based executive—or even a contract-to-hire executive—you can find out if an executive is a good fit for your company.
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