Knowledge & Insight

Why is advertising for senior staff a false economy?

Mon 9 October 2017

Using advertising as a recruitment tool can certainly produce results in some industry sectors, particularly when you need to appoint someone quickly, or if you’re recruiting for a junior role. But for the recruitment of senior personnel, advertising almost always proves a false economy – because candidates responding to advertised roles usually fall into one of three categories: unqualified, unemployed or unhappy. We’re not suggesting that advertising never draws good people, but generally speaking, it is rarely the best or most cost-effective way of attracting high-calibre candidates with the assets to create value for your organisation in the long-term.

Associated costs of advertising for senior staff

Whether you opt for high circulation generalist media or highly targeted niche publications, advertising can be expensive. And while the level of response can be high, the quality of candidates rarely is. It’s a problem frequently compounded by recruiters using generic role descriptions as they seek to maximise the volume of responders and the perceived value-for-money. But this is not an intelligent tactic, as searching through lots of poor quality candidates is rarely a productive use of time. Quality is paramount.

Why is headhunting any different?

Working with a professional head-hunter to identify potential candidates is an entirely different process. Unlike advertising, direct recruiting is a highly targeted, bespoke service. The head-hunter will take the time to fully understand your requirements. They’ll establish the precise skills, experience and track-record you’re looking for, then they’ll go out and identify people that match your brief.

Professional headhunting is a highly skilled methodology, and one that requires not only extensive industry knowledge and a network of professional contacts, but the ability to tactfully approach senior people and ultimately persuade them to leave their existing position. It’s a challenging task, but the rewards are usually worth it as the candidates identified through headhunting are always talented, fulfilled, experienced, and possessing a proven track-record of success. The benefits of headhunting are therefore two-fold – you recruit people with the expertise to hit the ground running and add value from day-one, and you bring on board people who are ready to commit to your company and add greater value in the long-term.

But isn’t headhunting more expensive than advertising?

Head-hunting can cost more than advertising, and if keeping down cost is the primary motive, then advertising may be the appropriate solution. But if the main objective is to identify and attract high-quality candidates and successful new hires, then head hunting is a clear winner. Even so, it’s important to understand the various options available. Executive search firms who head-hunt candidates generally do so either on a retainer or contingency basis.

In “retainer headhunting” the client pays part of the fee up-front and instructs the executive search firm to source a candidate that matches a specific profile. The remainder of the fee is usually split into additional payments at 30 and 60 days after initial instruction. In “contingency headhunting” the fee only becomes payable once the executive search firm has identified a candidate and that individual has successfully joined the company. In both retainer and contingency headhunting, the fee is based on the candidate’s salary package and may vary between 20% - 35% according to the pricing structure of the executive search firm.

Headhunting for long-term gains

Although the cost of headhunting can be higher than advertising, the value to the client is usually far greater. Using advertising to recruit for senior level roles is almost always a false economy because the vast majority of applications come from people who have either been made redundant - and therefore more likely to apply for a broad range of positions rather than one that matches their specific abilities and experience. Or you’ll receive applications from candidates who are uncomfortable in their existing role, perhaps because they are overly-challenged or under-achieving.

We appreciate that some hiring managers may not entirely agree with this statement, and we don’t deny that advertising can sometimes attract good candidates. But to illustrate the point, look at your own staff as an example – those you directly oversee on a day-to-day basis. This might be just a handful of people within your department, or a few thousand if you’re the CEO of a large firm. Do you think it likely that some of these people are currently exploring other opportunities, looking at job adverts and registering with recruitment agencies? Imagine 10% are doing just that - a not unreasonable assumption. And of those people who are looking to move elsewhere, do you think they will generally be the best performing 10% of your workforce, or the worst performing 10%?

Without actually carrying out an anonymous survey to prove it, it’s safe to say that it’s more likely to be your under-achieving staff who are who looking to move elsewhere. It will be those who are unhappy in their current situation, those who aren’t committed, those who are struggling to achieve their targets. And this is the problem with advertised recruitment, because it is all too often these kinds of candidates you attract. The question is, are these the type of people you need to build your business?

In contrast, those candidates identified by a head-hunter will have been selected because of their particular expertise and their track-record of delivering results. They create immediate impact, and because they have made a conscious decision to take on a new role as a means of advancing their career, their motivations can be very different from someone who is simply looking for another job. Employing the services of an executive search firm using a headhunting recruitment methodology produces better qualified candidates who are more focused on delivering results. Plus the end result is achieved rather more efficiently - as identification of candidates focuses on quality rather than quantity.

Stone Executive has an outstanding track-record of sourcing high-calibre candidates for senior level roles in a diverse range of industry sectors and functional practices. If you have an assignment you feel we could assist with, please contact one of our industry or functional experts who will be delighted to help.

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