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Stretch your stride in a senior role

Learn more about the executive search market and find out if this specialised area is right for you.

At the top end of the executive recruitment market, retained executive search firms operate as management consultants, helping their clients align their talent strategy with their business goals. These firms handle senior roles, where candidates must be able to demonstrate strong functional or sector expertise, typically attracting salaries from £130,000 basic to over £1 million.

Retained executive search firms work on behalf of their clients to identify the best possible candidate across the entire market. This is done by using their networks and bespoke databases, and roles are rarely advertised. Target candidates are usually those not actively job hunting.

In contrast, roles in the £75,000 to low six-figure salary bracket are often handled by firms that operate through search and selection – advertising the role and selecting the best candidates from those who respond.

Is this channel right for me?

Executive recruitment is most relevant if you have significant experience and wish to continue in your sector or function. If you are changing careers, networking and approaching your target firms direct will be more effective channels.

Developing enduring relationships with a few carefully selected consultants is an advisable part of your long-term career management strategy. They can help you access unadvertised roles and benefit from market insights from the consultants. The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), which represents the retained search industry worldwide, estimates that its member firms handle more than 70,000 senior roles each year.

A useful summary of how search firms work, prepared by the AESC, can be found on the Bluesteps website.

Retained vs contingent

Retained search firms are contracted by their clients to undertake a search for a fee. Many of them are AESC members who operate according to the Candidate Code of Conduct.

Other firms work on a contingency basis, approaching an organisation on a speculative basis where they have a candidate who they anticipate is a good fit.

Don't be afraid to ask how a firm works before forwarding your CV and only share it with firms if you are confident they will seek your consent before sending it to an organisation. You want to avoid having the market flooded by your unsolicited CV or it being sent to firms that you are approaching via other channels.


All consultants, principals or partners in a practice tend to specialise in an industry or discipline, so focus on building long-term relationships with the most relevant people. Keep in touch with them and follow them when they move firms. Initiate relationships if possible long before you are actively looking for a role, but even if you are currently seeking employment avoid any aura of neediness.

If you are invited to meet, be well prepared, ready to describe your ideal job and give examples of your relevant experience. Be the kind of person who search consultants enjoy talking to – pleasant, engaged, informed, professional and courteous. Remember, they are not there to help you find a job, but to work on behalf of their clients. Show your appreciation for their time and write to thank them afterwards.

Keep in touch every couple of months so that they keep you top of mind. Build the relationship by giving: share market knowledge and give them perspectives and insights. Cultivate contacts across a firm; partners and consultants are supported by associates, researchers and assistants. All can be your ally or enemy so act accordingly. You can even help as a source if you are well connected, but remember that the calibre of candidates you refer will reflect on your own 'brand'.



BlueSteps, the career service provided by the AESC, offers a unique service that helps you connect with leading executive search consultants.

As a member of BlueSteps, you have a confidential career profile, visible exclusively to consultants and researchers at AESC member firms. This service is most relevant for those targeting senior management positions.

Our partnership with BlueSteps provides you with a 30% discount on BlueSteps membership, allowing you to share your career profile with more than 8,000 search consultants worldwide and stay informed of the latest news in the executive job market. To register, please go to the LBS page on the BlueSteps site, click 'Become a member' and enter the code LBS30 during registration to receive your discount.

Executive Grapevine

Executive Grapevine Online Database Services, which includes eGOLD Recruitment, is a database of 10,000 executive search firms and mid-tier recruitment firms and 35,000 consultants worldwide, which is continually updated. Identify the most relevant consultants and firms using detailed search criteria and export results; search by firm to find a relevant or named consultant. See the Library A-Z of Databases.

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