My Title page contents

Top 5 Global Executive Search firm – Really?

oakstone international executive search top 5 global executive search firm

Blog by Oakstone, CEO, Paul Rayner

During my 35+ years in recruitment I have regularly, if not frequently, heard people refer to “Senior Level Executive Search Firms” in reverent terms – they have often been mentioned in hushed tones as though they are the holy grail of recruiters and the people to turn to when you need to hire ‘top people’.

For many years as I was learning my trade I thought of them as the crème de la crème and held them in high regard.

A few things have changed during my career which have, rightly or wrongly led me to have a very different opinion of them. Strangely, rather than being happy that my greatest competitors are not as good as I had heard, I am saddened – they were something to aspire to – almost mentors to look up to. Those days are gone and it’s disappointing.

The first time was back at the end of the last century J I was asked by a client of mine with whom I had recruited numerous people into three different companies to visit him and his head of HR in the company he had just joined.

That company was, at the time, a top three fast track high-growth software company that had expanded by 600% in the previous year.

It was definitely the hottest company I’d ever worked with at that point in my career and I was being asked to discuss with them how we would help appoint a Country Manager in Germany because the senior level executive search firm who they had retained three months previously had failed to do so at that point.

Long story short, whilst I was surprised that they had failed to fill the position, that surprise paled into insignificance once we had approached the top 46 relevant target candidates we found that NONE of them had been contacted by the other firm for the role

The only conclusion I could come to was that a top global executive search firm had simply not done the work or otherwise failed to target the right people.

Why is it that these companies are seen as the solution to fill roles that are in highly specialised sectors when it’s clear to me that in many cases, they are not that solution.


The second case I wish to highlight which has been the catalyst for me writing this blog is even more shocking than the first.

I am the CEO of an executive search firm who focuses on recruiting in the software sector – I would not call us a technology recruiter as the vast majority of people we source for our clients are commercially oriented people although we do work on more technical roles. I am certainly NOT someone who would be appropriate for “AND executive leadership role for Technology in EMEA.”

However, last week I received the following email which included the typo:


One of my team members noticed your profile on LinkedIn and passed it along to me as they knew that I am looking to fill and executive leadership role for Technology in EMEA. 

If you would consider having a conversation with “Company name” please let me know and I would be happy to set up a call.


This was sent to me by a gentleman working for a “top five international search firm” with an enviable reputation by any standard. Indeed, his email itself is relying on their name by asking me if I want to have a conversation with the company rather than he, the individual.

I would not allow my most junior members of our team to send out an email of this kind which is clearly BS.

Do these high-level firms really rely on “a member of the team noticing my profile on LinkedIn” and “passing it along”? Surely, they do more than stumble across me on LinkedIn to warrant their fee?

- Whatever happened to extensive and thorough research?

- Did anybody stop to consider that we are not a technology company?

- Did they give any thought to the fact that I was the CEO and owner of the company?

- Do they not check for typos: I am looking to fill and executive leadership role

It is truly astonishing that this email came to me from an individual who has spent eight years serving in that top five search firm.

What is further remarkable is that after replying to his email with the short but, I think appropriate reply under the circumstances, of: Bill, why me? I have, almost a month later, not had the courtesy of a reply!

Are they really making the high fees they charge by sending out emails to unqualified, inappropriate candidates and waiting for them to call back? I wouldn’t expect to charge 15% of base for doing nothing more than ‘trawling’.

I am genuinely left virtually speechless.

When are these firms going to have to deliver a better service? If they are to maintain the position they once built and in many cases still hold in the minds of people who are paying their very high fees, I suggest they need to work harder as well as smarter.

It’s also time that their clients and prospects expect and demand a better process.