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The rise of the Independent recruiter and their need to "step up"

I was given the great opportunity to take full ownership of Grays Search and Selection earlier this year.  It has been a year of the absolutely predictable business highs and lows….. expected when you are establishing a brand identity against the many recruitment companies out there. Whilst it is a great time to go independent, it is also a very tough time to go it alone due to the number of other people going down that route…

So why the rush to go Independent? Who gains more, the consultant or the client??

I will state from the start that this is not an article to overtly lead you towards why you should be using me at Grays (although of course you would be very welcome!). This is also definitely not an attack on the brand names, many of whom are superb at what they do. I just want to write a balanced and honest article about my own experiences.

Let's look at it from the client side

This is probably the great mystery. A lot of firms say that they want and would prefer dedicated firms and consultants who really get to know them. This allows the independent the opportunity to provide a service which can be a step above that provided by some of the larger recruiters, who can sometimes struggle to maintain focus on client service.

So why is it the truth that independent firms sometimes really struggle to wrestle work from the larger players? A client’s fear of failure in a search seems to be the biggest “hidden” factor in my experience.  Would you rather a search goes wrong with a brand name or with a new name? This is a very negative starting point, but it DOES happen….. No one wants a search to fail or prove difficult, but there is some comfort in using a brand for positive or negative reasons and as stated, many of them are very good at what they do. They have the experience, resources and networks.  ”Set Point” to the big boys??!

This is the “catch 22” for the independent. First you have to work hard to get the opportunity to pitch and then come up with truly compelling reasons why you are a better, albeit perhaps “riskier” alternative. Not easy, but what a challenge!

This is where the Independent has to “step up” and really earn their right to compete and win the business for the right reasons.

So here goes…..

  • Time: the client really needs to understand how much time actually goes into a proper search if a job is to be undertaken thoroughly on their behalf. Sourcing and attracting candidates for any senior role is not easy and therefore takes time. You have to make sure that your passion is genuinely to find the “right” candidate, not just those who are available. Does the larger firm really have that dedicated time for your individual needs?
  • Experience: the good news here is that for someone to have the confidence to go independent, they should have a great track record! Does the client really understand this as a balance to the fact that your brand may not be a ‘household’ name? Ensure they do, as this is vital if they are to have the confidence to go with you.
  • Flexibility and access to candidates:  many of the larger firms have strong networks and often claim they can get access to more people. This is simply not true. Many candidates will respond to a professional approach. Significantly due to concerns over confidentiality, they can often be far keener to talk to an individual and small firm rather than a larger firm. Make sure the client knows about your own very personal network and the lack of “hands off” issues you have due to the smaller and dedicated client base you operate with.
  • Bespoke process: the true benefit of being independent is that any new search can be looked at with a fresh pair of eyes.  You can think more about what the client wants and needs, rather than a process dictated to them by rigid corporate guidelines - creativity rather than uniformity.


  • Value: this is not about reducing fees to win the business. This is about realistic economies of scale and structures to fairly reflect the work that will be put into the assignment. As an independent, you have the freedom to create a fee structure that works for both parties.


  • Building genuine, long standing working relationships: the “independent” is importantly the individual hopefully becoming the person that works exclusively with the client, now and in the future. What greater incentive for both the client and the consultant to produce exceptional results and justify future repeat business with an individual you can get to know properly?

There are many more reasons, but I feel these are the main points for both parties (client and consultant) to consider and be aware of. The positive and frankly, most important piece of news for the client is that there is increasingly plenty of choice.  This should allow them to assess and establish what works best for them in each situation. In this heavily competitive environment, it is really important for the “Independents” to “step up” , rise to the challenge and provide genuine and healthy competition to the more established names in the executive search market. This should keep everyone on their toes, thus producing excellent results for the client and improving service levels all round.

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