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Executive Search Process Timeline: The Key Dates and Milestones

Posted by Lauren Kendall on July 15, 2021
An executive search process timeline keeps your recruiting efforts on track and on schedule. It outlines the major milestones you need to hit when searching for someone to fill a senior leadership position. Crucially, it also outlines approximately how long each step should take.

Following a timeline matters because the speed of the executive search process is important to get right. Wait too long to hire someone, and your company could suffer because of an unfilled gap in the C-suite. Move too fast, however, and you may be overlooking strong candidates or rushing through due diligence. It’s important to be thorough yet efficient – which is where the executive search process timeline comes in.

We have put together a sample timeline below. Top-tier executive search firms use timelines such as this one to guide the search process and to set clear expectations with clients. By keeping dates and milestones top of mind, this approach helps keep the search moving systematically through to success. The result: Locating the best executive available in the least time necessary.

Sample Executive Search Process Timeline

Your timeline may vary depending on what role you’re looking to fill, but not by much. Resist the urge to expand the parameters or condense the requirements because either could turn the executive search process into a much longer and more taxing endeavor than it should be.

The realities of the labor market also play an important role. If there is more demand for talent and less supply, finding someone on the schedule prescribed by the timeline gets harder. The best executive search firms have ways to overcome talent shortages. If there’s a missed deadline, it often means that there is misalignment between stakeholders within an organization. For example, the executive team cannot agree on the ideal candidate phenotype or there are more stakeholders than originally planned who want to have a say. A great executive search firm will keep the process on track and help you navigate through any unanticipated speed bumps.

The timeline to find an executive looks something like this:

Executive Search Timeline

Day 1-10 – Define the Requirements

Start by defining what skills, experience, and traits the executive hire needs to have. Describe the ideal candidate, then outline the absolute minimum qualifications necessary. Enlist perspectives from multiple stakeholders at different levels of the company. It’s not always obvious what the resume of the right candidate looks like, so don’t rush to judgments. Executive search firms can help you profile what top talent looks like for the role you are hiring for.

Day 11-30 – Map Out & Populate the Talent Pool

The next phase on the timeline is to map out the talent pool and begin screening candidates. Quality and quantity are both important at this phase. The talent pool needs to be large enough to provide diverse options, which can be difficult when criteria for an executive is too rigid. It’s during this phase that an executive search firm will tell you if your ideal candidate profile needs to be expanded upon. And, as always, a key target for any executive search is passive candidates (candidates who are not actively looking). Throughout this stage, analyze other metrics – like response rates – to evaluate whether the search strategy is on track or needs tweaking.

Day 31-45 – Single Out Top Candidates

By the midway point of the executive search process timeline, you will have 3-5 quality candidates to choose from. Choosing an executive from less than three candidates limits the ability to compare, contrast, and measure candidates against one another – which is essential for singling out the right one. As a reference point, 79% of candidates placed through Bowdoin’s executive search efforts are identified within the first 30 days of the search.

Day 46-65 – Conduct Interviews

Initial screening interviews between the candidate and the executive search firm typically happens in the previous phase, but interviews between the candidate and the company typically fall within the 45-65-day range. Acting fast is important, not only because promptly scheduling interviews signals to candidates that you value their time, but also because competition for best-in-class executives is fierce. Interviewing within a relatively short window also helps to highlight differences between candidates as the previous interview is still fresh in your mind.

Day 66-75 – Select a Final Candidate

By this point, you should have all the information you need to choose the best of the best. The insights of an executive recruiting firm can help you set aside bias and think objectively and comprehensively about who’s the best long-term fit and why. Some helpful advice: Choose someone who can help your organization become the best version of itself five years from now, versus finding someone who fits perfectly in the ‘right now’ version of your organization.

Day 76-90 – Iron Out the Details

Having found someone who can bring energy and ideas into the executive ranks, it’s vital to get that person to accept the job offer. By this point, the compensation package has already been discussed and vetted, so there should be no surprises, but often, there are unanticipated things that come up, like non-compete agreements, for example.

How to Accelerate Executive Recruitment

You don’t accelerate the executive search process by rushing to the ending. You do it by eliminating the setbacks and obstacles that make executive recruitment take longer than it needs to. Part of that is knowing what to expect, the other part is knowing what to do.

An executive search firm like Bowdoin excels in both regards. We help clients plan out their executive search process timeline. Then we help them meet each milestone on schedule and connect with the very best talent available along the way.

The right executive could transform your organization – and their first day could be 90 days away. Contact us to get started.

Wondering what kind of metrics you should be tracking as part of the executive search process timeline? Read this blog: What Key Metrics Should You Track for Your Executive Search?