Competitive Strategy

Ivy Exec Reviews Retained Search Recruitment Trends

When companies are looking for top talent—senior leaders, partners and members of the C-suite, they often turn to retained search firms to help them conduct a search and find the best possible candidate. In today’s tight job market, with the unemployment rate hovering at a low 4%, organizations are especially challenged to fill key roles. That’s where retained search can make the difference.

But not all firms are created equal and the bad rap that “resume mills” rightfully receive tends to reflect on even the best firms—the ones that take the time to understand both employer and potential employee needs and focus on making matches that even the most skilled matchmakers would be proud of.

Like Ivy Exec. What started as a job board has grown into a powerful online community of more than one million professionals—growing by 10,000 new professionals every month. This cadre of senior- and C-suite level executives gives us access to an elite group of individuals poised for their next career move.

That, plus our skilled team of relationship-driven recruiters, passionate about working with employers to fully understand their needs and what sets them apart as exceptional places to work, sets Ivy Exec apart from other retained search services.

We interviewed Justin Gonzalez, our head of recruitment for Ivy Exec’s retained search practice, to find out more about what’s happened in the retained search arena and how it works at Ivy Exec.

Ivy Exec Reviews Retained Search Recruitment Trends

What is your role at Ivy Exec and what does your team do?

I’m the director of recruitment here at Ivy Exec. I’m primarily the business development lead for this side of our business. Our team is involved with retained executive recruitment—recruitment marketing, employer branding, and compensation analysis.

Because the compensation analysis piece of this is especially important for clients, we’re fortunate that we’re also able to leverage and include the market research side of our business to bring added value.

Also read: Ivy Exec Reviews Market Research Recruitment Trends

How do recruitment projects fit into Ivy Exec’s business model?

From our beginnings as a job board we’ve quickly grown into a massive network of individual influencers and senior-level decision-makers who are interested in making their next career move. It’s not a loose network. These are individuals who have taken the step of becoming a member of our network. They’re looking to us for career content including webinars, job postings, and mentoring. We’re the place to go for these executives as they progress in their careers.

From a client perspective, what this allows us to do is to create a synergy between this target network of distinguished business professionals that clients are looking for. That’s where I see the beauty of our team and our projects and Ivy Exec’s business model.

Who are the clients that you serve, and which industries do they come from?

The three major industries that our clients generally come from are consulting, technology, and financial services. We love working with boutique and growing firms across these industries primarily because we can relate to them! We’re a boutique firm ourselves—a small, rapidly growing company. We added about 25 team members in 2018 alone which basically doubled our office in New York City. We’re small, nimble, and agile—just like most of the clients we serve.

Our mission is really to empower our clients in their growth. We want to position ourselves as a trusted partner through our recruitment and recruitment marketing advisory services. We want to win the confidence of everyone we do business with. A big part of that is the ability to directly relate to the issues they’re dealing with.  

What are some of the client trends you are seeing in the corporate recruitment space right now?

We’re seeing a lot of companies wanting to focus on their culture and employer branding. This is the biggest trend that’s out there right now. Companies want to find top talent and they know they need to differentiate themselves in ways that appeal to potential candidates. Culture is very important.

That doesn’t mean that every company needs to try to become Google, putting ping-pong tables and big screen TVs everywhere. It’s all about matching candidate needs. It’s about focusing on employee needs. If you focus on your employees, they’ll focus on your clients and customers. If you support your employees’ growth that also creates loyalty for your company.

So, the biggest trend we’re seeing is companies wanting to find folks that share their values. That comes into play a great deal in recruitment branding. We’re really trying to nail the message so that we’re clearly conveying to candidates what makes each company different, what their culture and employer brand is. Today, senior candidates are looking for a great fit as much if not more than the companies are. What we work to do through our employment marketing is show and convey each company’s unique culture—not only as an employer brand, but as a family.  

What kind of recruitment projects does your team handle?

We’re really focusing on manager to C-suite partner-level searches that align with our membership demographics at Ivy Exec. That’s a really hard-to-reach market that takes time to research and connect with. It’s something that’s very hard for our clients to do. It’s something that is often equally as hard for other search firms to do. Our members are our “secret sauce” if you will.

But we’re not just focused on that upper echelon of talent. We work on a case-by-case basis. Usually, when we have a client that we’re already engaged with and they have a need for an entry or mid-level search, we’ll definitely step in to help them out.

Also read: The Importance of Recruiting and Retaining Women in Business

What kind of challenges are your clients facing in this current period?

Connecting with the right candidates is a big one—building their digital footprint, digital awareness and employer brand. In addition to that, some clients are having issues promoting their employees from within, especially at that senior manager to director level, or at the partner level.

It’s a conundrum, external talent may have the background, skills and experience, but not represent a good culture fit. Internal candidates may be a good culture fit but may not have the right technical competencies.

Another challenge that clients are facing today is building a diverse leadership team. It sounds simple, but it’s also very complex. We hear so much these days about hiring for fit, but that can result in hiring the same types of individuals who have the same types of demographics. Yet we know that diversity drives business growth and success. What we do is work with clients to develop a clear focus on the types of values they want an individual to have and creating an internal plan to create diversity as well.

Why do clients come to you for support? 

We are very hands-on and collaborative. We take time to thoroughly understand not only what a client is looking for in an individual hire, but what they’re all about—what they value, what kind of culture they have, what makes them different and better from a candidate’s perspective.

Our goal is to get the right people on the bus the first time because the cost and negative implications of an incorrect hire are astronomical in terms of time, lost opportunity, and out-of-pocket costs. It really is a huge undertaking, so we have to make sure that we help our clients get the right hire the first time. And that’s what we do.

Our ability to do this comes from the conversations we have with our clients on launch calls, often in person. We really try to focus on why the company is a great place to work.

How do you engage with candidates that you recruit for retained search projects?

We’ll reach out to the candidates that are in our very established Ivy Exec network. This is a personal touch that usually involves multiple touchpoints. We’re not just taking a job description and matching it to a candidate’s profile, although that’s part of the process. We go beyond that though. Just as with our clients, we reach out to personally connect with and thoroughly understand the candidates. Once we get past the pre-screening, high-level reviews of resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc., we’ll sit on an hour call with the people we’re considering to really drill down into their backgrounds and experience. We want to understand that they’re looking for, what they want out of their next career move, and where they see themselves in the future.

It really is a lot like playing matchmaker. It’s almost a sense of euphoria you get when you make that right match where the candidate is super excited about the role and it’s a perfect place for them, and it totally aligns with the employer’s expectations. When the client finally makes that offer and accepts a candidate into their fold it’s a great feeling.

What type of solutions are you having to create to meet some of the challenges you shared earlier?

The key things, as I’ve already touched on, are:

  • Internal professional development
  • Diversity
  • Hiring at the partner level
  • Creating strong digital footprints

The key thing I really want to stress is that we’re more than just a recruiter or what many in the industry would refer to as a head hunter. That’s not us. We want to help our clients from the talent perspective, and we want our candidates to find that place where they want to grow.


Retained search is more important than ever before and that importance is not likely to diminish any time soon. It’s a very tight labor market, particularly for top talent at the C-suite and partner level. It’s expertise that’s built on relationships—the kind of relationships that Ivy Exec has been creating and nurturing since 2006. If you’d like the kind of retained executive search talent support that Ivy Exec provides, contact us. We’d love to work with you on our next project and see you become a member of our community.

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About the Author

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.