Things to consider before hiring an executive search advisor

Jan 20, 2020

The value you will add and the time you will save is worth the cost almost every single time.

You vigorously and regularly review all of the latest surveys and industry reports to ensure your compensation packages are competitive. You know your company has a Best Firm To Work For culture, and you have the plaques to prove it. You consistently hit your growth goals and have paid out bonuses company-wide like clockwork for more than a decade.

You feel like you’ve done everything right to make your firm an attractive destination for potential employees, but still have little to no success finding the director-level talent your firm needs to continue growing. As if that wasn’t enough, you know you’re likely going to be paying your new hire an arm and a leg just to be competitive in the market. You realize you may need to consider other options, and you wonder – why should I have to pay an advisor on top of everything else to find this person for me?

It is a tough pill to swallow for many AEC firm leaders, but working with an executive search advisor may be the best (and cheapest) solution for your director-level hiring needs.

Nobody likes paying for a service that you can complete yourself, but, in a tight labor market that only gets tighter as you move up the org chart, you may be surprised by the value that can be added by working with an ES advisor as an extension of your team. Here are a few things you should consider when deciding if an external advisor is right for your hiring needs:

  • How long have you been trying to fill this position? If it’s been more than a year, it may be time to consider outside help. It is possible you could put forth great effort for another year and still get nowhere. Bringing in an ES advisor will help to fill the position quicker and relieve a lot of the stress that builds up when your team is working hard to fill a difficult position for an extended period of time.
  • Is there anyone internally who could be considered? This is somewhat of a rhetorical question, as there are probably no internal candidates if the position is still open. That being said, you should think twice about your internal candidates before hiring an ES advisor. Zweig Group’s ES team is often brought in to make an external hire when there is a great candidate right there in-house who has been overlooked for the position. It is not easy to find a qualified candidate externally who is also a good culture fit, so letting the best internal candidate grow into the position will not only save you money, but it will also show the rest of the staff that there are great growth opportunities in your company. Don’t have any internal candidates? You need to create more professional development and mentoring opportunities for your staff right now.
  • What level of the company will she/he fit into? What are your expectations for them at your company? If this new hire will be entering the firm at the director level or higher, it is safe to say that you have high expectations for them and you expect them to be there for the long haul. As you move up the org chart, the value that an ES advisor adds will increase as well. While you may be able to find someone at this level on your own, the insight and industry expertise from the right ES advisor will not only help you fill the position quicker, but could deliver someone who exceeds your expectations and has the potential to change your company. For example, our team at ZG was once hired to find a new director of marketing for a 90-person architecture firm. The woman we found became the CMO on day one and was pegged as the future CEO of the company – not a bad investment for a new “director of marketing.”
  • What does your in-house HR staff look like? Is firm leadership involved in the hiring process? Some companies place a high priority on having experienced recruiters in-house, and others view it as an unnecessary overhead expense and prefer to take a “hands-off” approach to the hiring process altogether. If you have a hiring team with extended experience in the AEC industry and leadership (principals) that take an active interest in the hiring process, you may have everything you need without hiring an ES advisor. This is rarely the case with firms in the AEC industry, so you may just be spinning your wheels if you expect an average effort to yield significant results in your hiring process anytime soon.
  • What is your budget? What type of contract and time commitment are you expecting from the advisor? In a tight labor market where candidates are contacted about “amazing” opportunities on a weekly basis, it is hard for even the best companies to engage and convert qualified candidates into new hires. A retained contract can cost anywhere from $25,000-$60,000 depending on the level/difficulty of the search, and a contingency contract could cost even more at 15 percent to 30 percent of the first year’s salary. If you are not prepared to spend that much money and take an active interest in the search, then an ES advisor may not be the right choice for you right now. Although, you may be surprised by how much of your own time you will spend trying to find a suitable candidate otherwise. How much is your time worth?

It is a tough pill to swallow for many AEC firm leaders, but the value you will add and the time you will save by hiring an ES advisor for your key hires is worth the cost almost every single time.

John Bray is an advisor with Zweig Group’s executive search and recruiting team. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.