8 August 2023 | by Louise Archer

In the vast world of recruitment, there exists a group known as the SHREK firms. These headhunting giants dominate the global search landscape but are by no means infallible. If you want to pitch successfully against these executive firms here’s how:

Understanding the Headhunting Giants – SHREK Firms

What You Need to Know About Headhunting Firms:

  1. Completion Rates: Many of their searches don’t result in an appointment, and completion rates are low.
  2. Black Book Tactics: These headhunting firms often move the same candidates around through a network of contacts.
  3. Experience Level Disparity: Researchers carrying out the project may lack the experience of the Partner who pitched it.
  4. Rigid Process: The typical time to receive a shortlist from a headhunting firm ranges from 8 to 12 weeks.
  5. Lack of Transparency: Reports and updates from search firms don’t always reflect the entire process, leading to client dissatisfaction.
  6. High and Rigid Fees: Fixed at one-third of the first year’s compensation and invoiced on time, not completion of milestones.
  7. No Commitment to Deliver: Full fees are billed regardless of success by headhunting firms.
  8. Focus on Large Fees: They often focus on fees upwards of £500,000.

How to Pitch Against Headhunting Firms: Strategies for Success

Thorough and Exhaustive Search

Cast a Wider Net: Importantly, unlike traditional headhunting firms that often rely on existing networks, your searches shouldn’t be preordained. Aim to explore beyond your immediate network, seeking a more comprehensive and diverse candidate pool

 Ensure Headhunting Experience Levels

– Experienced Consultants: Ensure that your searches are conducted by seasoned consultants, not just researchers.

Be Faster!

– Shortlist in 4-6 Weeks: Aim to deliver your shortlist quicker than the headhunting firms and consider a fast-track option for clients.

Have a Transparent Process

– Weekly Updates: Share progress regularly and collaborate with the client to re-steer the search if necessary.

Only Bill Once the Client is Satisfied

– Satisfactory Completion: Ensure your client’s satisfaction throughout the project and bill only upon meeting milestones.

Be Agile with Your Commercials

– Flexible Arrangements: Adapt to meet the commercial needs of both parties, unlike the rigid approach of many headhunting firms.

Show Enthusiasm and Commitment

– WANT the Business: Demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to every client, regardless of size.

– Don’t Fail: Assure your client that you’ll work with them until a satisfactory result is reached.

Position Yourself as DIFFERENT to other Headhunting firm

– Adapt Your Pitch: Emphasise how you stand apart from SHREK firms, offering unique value and client-centric solutions.


With these strategies, recruiters can confidently pitch against the mighty headhunting giants. Emphasising a consultative, client-focused approach, agility, enthusiasm, and commitment will make you stand out in a competitive market. To hone your pitch further, don’t miss our 10 Top Tips for a Terrific Pitch.

Louise Archer

Louise Archer

Louise has worked on the front-line of recruitment for twenty years. Having been a contingent recruiter before transitioning to retained she understands the struggles that consultants and companies face, operating on a contingent basis. Louise started training Retained Search four years ago, and since then has taught hundreds of recruiters to move to Retained.

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