Is it right or wrong that headhunters are only for executives, CXO and director level?

Read on this posting by Jorg Stegemann, CEO of Kennedy Executive Search and Paul Battye, Partner at Kennedy for the United Kingdom, CEO of Moorlands Human Capital and Practice Leader Finance.

The above is… wrong, of course. Several factors determine how we choose our assignments and for which kind of recruitment needs we will be called.


The complexity, and not the salary level or the experience, will determine whether a headhunter is needed – and willing – to fill the job or not. If a job is on staff level but Hungarian, Bushman language and a Feng-Shui certification are must-criteria (if you have this role to fill, please do not call us!) this is a difficult recruitment. In theory, this would be a search a company would want to give to a headhunter as chances to fill this job by their own means, e.g. with a job advertisement are very low.

“In the market” versus “On the market”:

If you want the best person that is actively looking for a new job, then you should advertise directly or use a recruitment agency. This is what we call an ‘on the market solution’ as these candidates are actively seeking a new role. If, however, you want to hire the very best talent, those individuals who are happily sat behind their desk doing a great job for your competitors then you need to use a headhunter to find you an “in the market solution”. These individuals are usually difficulty to identify and even harder to attract. The hire these talented individuals you need the guidance of a good headhunter who can tempt them to join you.

Salary level:

We often hear that salary level is what determines whether and executive search firm will take on a role. There is some credence to this but the argument is more about the time it takes to conduct an executive search and therefore the fee levels. Headhunters typically charge 35% of a candidate guaranteed remuneration with a minimum fee. This is because an executive search process typically takes an individual headhunter 120 man hours to complete. Therefore, in order to meet the minimum fee level (which will vary between countries) then the salary level needs to be in line with this in order for businesses to justify the expense. However, many forward-thinking companies will often meet the minimum fee level in order to fill roles with significant complexity to stay ahead of the competition. However, we recently had a client who discussed a job at a relatively low salary level and told us that there are only about 20 people in the world who could possibly do the job. Supply and demand determine the price which is a good thing for the people that meet the qualification. And the same goes for the search fee.

So why do headhunters mainly work on executive level? 

How come headhunters will work mainly for senior executive roles and not for the hard-to-fill roles that require less experience? The reason is that our fees will in most cases be calculated as a percentage of the salary of the candidate. And that is why it pays better to work on jobs that pay high salaries than on those that are hard to find…

And how do I find out the best executive search firm for MY needs?

When selecting an executive search firm the chemistry between the client and the individual headhunter is often as important as their speciality. If you don’t get on with your headhunter then irrespective of how good they are it can be difficult to build a partnership. Therefore, the first thing you need to ask yourself is can I work with this consultant?

The next thing you need to consider is geography.

  • Is the a local, regional or global search? For a local search you will want to use a headhunter who has a strong presence in your country of operation.
  • When conducting a regional search say EMEA or APAC does the executive search firm have offices in the locations, you want to search in? If not then you probably need to speak with an international player like Kennedy Executive Search
  • For a global search then you absolutely need to work with a global search firm who has offices in the main markets you want to work in. You also want to know that they will be taking a team based approach and who will be working on your project.

Would you like to find out more? Contact us!