Sniper vs Machine Gun: Accelerate vs Contingency Firms

Written by Orla Treacy

We regularly get asked how we compare to the larger, more traditional head-hunting firms. The answer to this question is an explanation of our use of technology, use of more modern approaches, not charging fees unless we fill the vacancy, delivering candidates to our clients within one week of launching the search, among others.

Recently, I have been asked by a few clients how we compare to large contingency recruitment firms. As Accelerate is relatively new to the market, I thought it would be a good idea to explain the differences in our operating models on our blog.

I tend to avoid using the word contingency when describing our service. Contingency or non-retained firms traditionally focus on recruiting candidates at Manager level or below. They typically advertise vacancies or have large databases of candidates to harvest from when needed. Many firms of this nature can also speculatively gather candidates for their future searches or speculatively send candidates to clients and potentially place candidates in this manner.

While we don’t charge up-front retainer fees and work on a contingency basis, we offer a senior level headhunting service. Our approach is almost counter intuitive as a business model and we get regularly challenged on this by customers but when explained tends to make more commercial sense.

For example, if a client engages us on a General Manager position, we headhunt candidates from a relatively select few because our client will have specific targets for us, companies they are attracted to because of competitor analysis, they also may know specific people in the market they would like us to approach. They may want to see people from other sectors but mostly our client will want current General Managers or Commercial, Sales or Business Unit Directors from similar sized major multinational household recognised firms. When working with globally recognised or Fortune 500 organisations, they tend to exclusively recruit from similar organisations as the transition for candidates makes much more sense and is smoother than somebody coming from elsewhere. Therefore, during our briefing calls with clients we try to shrink the potential candidate pool as much as possible and then specifically target those candidates and try to attract them to the vacancy at hand.

The main difference from a client point of view between Accelerate and other contingency firms is the attention given and quality of service provided. Due to the low-volume specialised projects that are undertaken, we have the capacity to personally manage recruitment processes end-to-end. We engage on less searches, at higher levels, with higher commercial return, with fewer potential candidates that have higher visibility and with lower turnover. The person that speaks with the hiring manager and human resources is the same person that is briefing and interviewing candidates and the same person that is presenting candidates to clients, and managing the process. This personalised attention means a smoother service and cuts out a huge amount of wasted time due to lack of meeting expectations.

Naturally, based on the pyramid formation of organisations, there are less executive positions, lower turnover of people, less candidates available and fewer business possibilities. However, by not diluting our quality and focusing on providing a high-level search service, we gain repeat business, form strong partnerships with our clients and candidates and compete against a traditional headhunting industry sector that is quickly moving away from the retained model.

It has been described to me as a specialised sniper approach rather than a machine gun approach, why I shy away from the analogy it is a reasonable comparison. Instead of sending multiple candidates for multiple searches and hoping something makes a match, we carefully select both projects that we work on and candidates that we send to maximise results.