Boutique or Top 5 Retained Search Firm?

Size matters. That’s what too many people think when they are looking for a retained search firm. They apply the old adage, “you don’t get fired for buying IBM or Microsoft.” However, hiring one of the top 5 global firms, while safe, does not necessarily result in the the best candidate selection. Whereas, boutique retained search firms provide benefits that large firms can’t offer.


As we discussed with specialized firms, large executive search firms also come up against significant blockage challenges. Their large client list can work against them when it comes to finding the best possible candidates. For top retained search firms, that means they may not be able to source, attract and present the the best candidates that align with your search. Boutique firms operate with the same rules, but have a smaller list of companies they can’t access.


Initial meetings with large firms always feature their senior partners. You’ll be wined and dined and promised to have the full resources of the firm behind you. However, unless you’re in their top echelon of clients, as soon as you sign on the dotted line, your search will be handed off to junior associates to run.

At boutique retained search firms, Principals are involved throughout the entire search process. It’s important to note that the majority of them have previous experience working at much larger firms, learning the ropes and developing their client base, and then striking out on their own to provide improved service while leaving the bureaucracy behind.


Regardless of the firm’s size or reputation, it’s the individual recruiter who makes the difference. Finding someone who both understands and prioritizes your needs is what you are looking for to achieve the results you are seeking. Retained executive search firms are invaluable partners. Not only can they save you time, resources, and money, the candidates they identify and present are going to impact your business results for years to come. Make sure you take the time upfront to teach them about your business and be open and honest throughout the process, so they can deliver the best possible candidates.

If you still think you need a big firm, make sure you’re asking them the following questions:

What is your completion rate? You might be surprised how some of the top firms in the world fare.
Who will be involved in the search? If you’re not convinced you’re getting senior leadership, keep looking.
How do you assess candidates? Find out if they are looking for fit beyond technical skills. At this level, people have earned their stripes. Culture fit is far more critical.
Do you have a guarantee? They should have a guarantee of a year. If they believe in their process, this should not be an issue.

Sheer Velocity is a boutique retained executive search firm with offices in Denver, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boulder, and Scottsdale. Our approach prioritizes both the technical and cultural fit for your organization. And we don’t stop when the hire has been made, we check in 60 and 90 days after to get feedback. To learn more, send us a note with your questions and we’ll get right back to you.