Executive Search Campaigns: Are Retainers Normal and How Long Does it Take?

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The process of an executive search campaign can be both complex and nuanced. While many organizations may be familiar with typical recruitment campaigns, the executive search process is a different beast altogether. The key question is often centered around the duration of the process and the role of retainers. Here’s a comprehensive guide that demystifies this process, drawing on insights from the specialists in product management and marketing at IntelligentPeopleUK.

Key Points

  1. Duration of Executive Search Campaigns: Typically, a normal recruitment campaign may take four to six weeks from the briefing to a candidate offer or start. However, an executive search campaign can extend this timeline.
  2. The Importance of Choosing the Right Firm: Horror stories abound about search campaigns dragging on, or worse, failing, resulting in the loss of a retainer. The reality is that selecting the right search firm specializing in specific capabilities like growth can ensure that the campaign doesn’t take longer than necessary.
  3. Functional Specialization Matters: Being a functional specialist in areas like product management and marketing means having a strong footprint of candidates in the market and understanding what good looks like. This often cuts down the time needed for a search campaign.
  4. Recognizing Characteristics: Identifying specific characteristics like growth and having traction with candidates with those characteristics gives a huge head start, saving both time and money.

Step-by-Step Process

  1. Identify the Right Search Firm: Focus on firms that specialize in your needed capabilities. Look for experience and a proven track record in those areas.
  2. Understand the Specialization: Engage with firms that not only place candidates in specific roles but also specialize in working with growth companies or other specific characteristics that align with your needs.
  3. Provide a Briefing: Detail what you’re looking for in a candidate, including any specific characteristics or expertise.
  4. Allow for Time: Expect a shortlist of candidates within six to eight weeks if you’ve selected the right firm.

Resources Mentioned

  • Retainers in Executive Searches: Often perceived as risky, the use of retainers can be normal, but only if you’ve chosen the right executive search firm that aligns with your specific needs.
  • Functional Specializations: Focusing on firms that are specialists in product management, marketing, or other specific areas can shorten the search process.


Understanding that an executive search campaign may vary in duration from typical recruitment efforts is essential. The key lies in choosing the right search firm that specializes in the required capabilities and characteristics, ensuring the most efficient and effective process. The question of retainers and whether they are normal for executive searches is dependent on making these wise choices. Partnering with a specialist like IntelligentPeopleUK that recognizes the right characteristics can lead to a successful search campaign in a timely manner. This strategic approach can help companies avoid unnecessary delays and make the entire process more seamless and rewarding.

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