Executive Search Firms

Guidance on managing the recruitment, selection and work product of search firms when circumstances dictate their use.

UC Davis is committed to outreach in its methods of recruitment to reach its goal of attaining diversity at all levels of staff employment, including the selection of retained firms to conduct searches.

Search firms are sometimes introduced in order to broaden the scope of the search and better meet our goal of attaining diversity. Departments should engage in extensive outreach to ensure that all potential applicants have equal opportunity to compete for the position. Hiring managers should review the campus written Affirmative Action Plan(s) and note whether there are affirmative action goals for the job group for which they are searching.

Two Types of Search Firms

  • Contingency firms: usually work for a percentage of the first year total cash compensation and generally focus on mid-level to lower level positions. Contingency firms, thus, do not receive any compensation for services unless they are successful in placing a candidate.
  • Retained firms: work on a retainer basis; that is, there is an up-front fee that is paid whether or not the firm successfully fills a position. The fee is based on the anticipated salary of the position. Retained firms generally handle higher-level and executive-level positions.

In both cases, in addition to the professional fees noted above, additional charges will apply for items such as postage, telephone calls, and travel. There can be legal considerations that can have a serious impact on your business operation with the use of search firms. It is, therefore, imperative that you consult with your Employment Consultant/Recruiter prior to engaging the services of a search firm.

Selecting a Search Firm

Upon decision to use a search firm, hiring managers should ask for and check at least two references from potential firms. This will provide needed feedback to ensure the integrity and track record of search competency and diversity of their applicant pools. In all cases involving the use of search firms, the department should take steps to ensure the quality and value of the services rendered. In particular, it is the policy of the University of California, per Business & Finance Bulletin 43, that the use of any outside firm in which fees exceed $50,000 requires three proposals to be submitted and considered before a decision can be made. This policy allows for reasonable competition among outside vendors.

Hiring units should consult with Purchasing on the terms and conditions set forth in writing by the search firm to ensure conformance with university policy (proper insurance coverage, etc.). There should also be consultation with the Associate Vice Chancellor's Office/Human Resources to ensure that terms and conditions of the contract do not unintentionally set up future obligations for other units on campus.

The hiring manager is expected to convey to the search firm(s) the university's commitment to and interest in obtaining a diverse pool of candidates. Where there is underutilization and/or affirmative action goals, search processes, including search firms, should engage in targeted recruitment activities that are consistent with university policy and designed to ensure that qualified women and minorities are well represented in applicant pools for staff positions.

The hiring manager is expected to review the candidate pool to determine whether it is adequately diverse and, if not, she or he should consult with the search firm to consider extending the scope of the recruitment efforts to obtain additional diversity. The university is the owner of all applications/resumes submitted to the executive search firm. Ultimately the hiring manager/search committee will be responsible for completing selection documentation on the candidate chosen for hire and supplying reasons for non-selection on all other candidates who were referred or sourced through any method of outreach.