Staffing vs Executive Search

Understanding the Difference
Between Staffing and Executive Search

Two prominent approaches to support in sourcing and hiring new team members are staffing and executive search. Staffing and Executive Search are common methodologies employed to find and hire the right candidates for roles, yet they vary significantly.

  • Executive Search is a consultative process for professional, managerial, strategic, and senior-level positions. You might see organizations referred to as Executive Headhunter, Retained Executive Search Firm, Executive Recruitment Agency, etc.   
  • Staffing is generally associated with a broad employee need, entry-level roles, frontline employees, temporary roles, and temporary to permanent roles. These firms usually specialize in an industry or type of role. You might see these referred to as Placement Firms or Employment Firms.

Executive Search vs Staffing – What Are the Differences in the Process?


  • Types of roles: Recruitment is typically used for entry-level or broad needs across an organization.
  • Candidate sourcing: Recruiters may source candidates through a variety of methods, including job board posting, social media, and employee referrals.
  • Candidate selection: Candidates are typically screened based on an application or resume and then interviews are conducted to select the most qualified candidates.

Executive Search

  • Types of roles: Executive search is typically used for professional, managerial, strategic, and senior-level positions.
  • Candidate sourcing: Executive search firms use a variety of methods to source candidates, including networking, highly targeted advertising and direct outreach.
  • Candidate selection: Executive search firms conduct a thorough screening process, including specialized interviews, assessments, assistance in client conversation/interviews, negotiation, onboarding, and integration.

Choosing between a staffing and executive search firm

Choosing between staffing and an executive search firm hinges on the nature of the role you seek to fill. If you have a role that causes you to debate between these two options, you may consider the nuances and impact of the role as a determining factor. For unique, difficult searches, recovery from failed searches or mis-hires, and filling roles that will have big impacts on organizational culture or achieving both short-term and long-term goals, you may want to consider the more supportive process of Executive Search.

While executive search firms may incur higher costs, the benefits offered can outweigh the expenses. Below are a few examples.

People around a desk with computers, Executive Search, Panel Interview
  • Access to a Wider Pool of Candidates: Executive search firms delve deep into their networks and engage passive candidates, who might not be actively seeking new opportunities. This widens the talent pool and ensures a comprehensive search for the best fit.
  • They Focus on Both Short-Term and Long-term Goals: Executive placement requires a focus on both immediate needs and the long-term goals of the organization. Executive search firms will consider how the leader will need to evolve with the organization. This can include the candidates’ possible role in succession planning for other leaders, expansion plans, mentorship of future leaders, etc.  
  • Expertise in Assessing Candidates: Assessing and selecting candidates for senior positions requires a specialized skill set. Executive search firms possess the expertise needed to evaluate not just functional skills but also strategic vision and leadership capabilities.
  • Understanding of Company Culture and Needs: Executive search firms invest time in understanding the nuances of a company’s culture. As company culture is experienced every day within the organization, taking time to understand the current culture, as well as the aspirations of how leaders would like company culture to evolve, are key factors in the leadership skills and style that will be needed. This in-depth understanding ensures a better alignment between the candidate’s profile and the organization’s goals and values.
  • Bringing a Fresh Perspective: Bringing on new leaders can be a daunting task for an already busy staff. It’s easy to post the role and see the applications that you get as the only option. Or if you are able to invest a little more time, maybe reach out to a network from your industry. An executive search firm can go beyond these candidates that are in easy reach, engaging diverse candidates, with different experiences and fresh perspectives from adjacent or different industries.
  • Assistance with Relocating Candidates:  National or international searches often also mean navigating relocating candidates. There are more decisions, and often more people than just the candidate, involved in making a move for a role. Executive recruiting agencies can help understand motivation and needs and support candidates through this process.
  • Reduced Risk of Making a Misaligned Hire: Making a poor hiring decision at the executive level can have far-reaching consequences. Executive search firms minimize this risk by employing rigorous search and screening processes, ultimately reducing the likelihood of a mis-fit at the senior leadership level. Most Executive Recruiters also offer a guarantee should the new leader not work out.

Understanding what support is best for your hiring needs can be challenging. Please feel free to reach out to Acumen Executive Search if you would like to discuss a particular situation. We may be able to help or can refer you to other resources.

Acumen Executive Search, Portland, OR – named a “Most Admired Company”, Acumen provides equitable, customized, and impactful executive search and advisory services that benefit our clients and positively impact the communities in which they operate. With staff across the West Coast, we welcome a conversation to help you navigate executive hiring.  and positively impact the communities in which they operate.