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How Long Does It Take to Complete an Executive Search? (It Depends on 5 Factors.)

As an executive recruiter, one of the most common questions that current and potential clients ask me is “how long does it take to complete an executive search?”

According to The Executive Search Benchmark Performance Report by Clockwork (a leading executive search software company), the average executive search takes 123 days to complete. However, this statistic does not tell the whole story. Some searches take less than 60 days, and some searches take more than 180 days.

Each search is unique. This article features five questions to help you predict how long your search is likely to take.

1. How clear are you on the target profile for the role?

You would be surprised by how often companies don’t really know what they are looking for. Lack of clarity and alignment can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, members of the hiring team often have different opinions on the ideal profile for a position. This is especially true with brand new roles, as opposed to roles where someone is being replaced.

“I’ll know it when I see it” is not what you should be thinking when you begin an executive search. If you want to complete your search faster, invest some time up-front to clarify the target profile for the role. The clearer that you are on what you are looking for, the faster that you will be able to identify, attract, and hire an exceptional leader.

2. How many qualified candidates currently live within driving distance?

While it is important to know what you are looking for, some companies take it too far. I once worked with a company that serves as one such example. There were less than 20 people in the world who actually met their initial selection criteria for a key role.

As you think through your target profile, consider how many relevant candidates currently live within driving distance of the location for the role. If there are less than 25 viable candidates in your area, you will probably need to broaden your selection criteria and/or consider candidates from additional regions. Relocation is a significant hurdle, so your search will probably take longer if that ends up being a requirement.

3. How much urgency is there to fill the role?

I once helped a PE firm fill a CEO role in less than 45 days. While there were many elements that contributed to the atypical speed of this project (CEO searches usually take much longer), the key factor here was urgency. The PE firm needed to replace an under-performing CEO as soon as possible. As a result, they were very collaborative, accessible, and decisive during the search. This led to a much faster result. (On a side-note, the placement ended up being very successful in the role, so there was no sacrifice in the quality of their selection.)

In comparison, there are times when there is a much lower urgency to fill a position. For example, this is one reason why Board searches typically take over 120 days to complete. Appointing a non-executive Board member is generally not considered as high of a priority. As a result, the process generally moves more slowly.

4. What are the current workloads of the people who will lead the search?

One of my friends is the Head of Executive Recruiting for a Fortune 50 company. He is their only executive recruiter, even though they have over 50,000 full-time employees and hundreds of executives at Director-level and above. At any given time, he is usually serving as the quarterback for at least 10-15 executive searches for his organization. Many third-party executive recruiters also work on more than 10 executive searches at one time.

The bandwidth of your internal recruiting team and/or third-party recruiting firm has a significant impact on the efficiency and speed of your search process. One reason why I can help companies complete searches much faster than other third-party recruiters is because of my philosophy to limit the number of searches that I work on at any given time.

5. How compelling is the value proposition for the role?

A poor value proposition is almost always a factor when a search moves slowly. Your company could be clear on the target profile, there could be an adequate supply of top talent in your area, there could be strong urgency to fill the role, and bandwidth might not be an issue. However, your search will still move slowly if top candidates do not consider your company and role to be compelling.

Before you launch an executive search, identify as many reasons as possible why a top performer should be interested in the position. Here are some ideas to consider for your value proposition:

  • Unique and meaningful aspects of your company’s mission, impact, and culture
  • Your company’s reputation, scale, competitive advantages, and/or recent performance
  • Your industry’s growth, potential, and/or recent performance
  • Track record of your company’s leadership team and/or the supervisor for the role
  • Tangible ways that the role will be able to make an impact in and out of your organization
  • The career path for the role
  • The compensation package and financial upside for the role

The more compelling the value proposition (both for your company and for a specific role), the more likely you will be able to attract outstanding people and complete your search quickly.

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About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for innovative sports, fitness, and wellness companies. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and, and he is the author of two books and over 250 articles on career management, peak performance, and executive recruiting.

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