The secrets of the Executive Search industry – exposed! – by Terry the barber.

I had my hair cut today, by Terry, who has been the owner of Raffles in Burton on Trent for at least 30 years – possibly much longer.  I’d send you to his website, but he doesn’t have one.  His marketing budget is zero pounds per year.

Normally I go for a trim every 3 or 4 weeks, but Terry hadn’t seen me for much longer than that.  His expert eye could detect that my hair length hadn’t increased by 2 months’ worth of growth since our last encounter, and his expert brain made the logical deduction that I’d seen a rival stylist at some interim point.

He was right, of course, and I hung my head in shame as I confessed to paying a visit to the posh hair salon over the road.  Then, realising that hanging your head in shame isn’t helpful to a hairdresser, I sat up straight again and prepared myself for a telling off.

But I didn’t get one.  Terry didn’t mind at all!  He’s used to his customers going AWOL for a while for one reason or another, and then returning with their tails between their legs after some time has gone by – or not.  According to him, the five main reasons he loses clients are:

  • moving house;
  • going bald;
  • getting a girlfriend who is a hairdresser;
  • death;
  • wanting to go ‘upmarket’.

This last one applied to me.  I had been to the more expensive hair salon over the road, to see if I would receive a better haircut.

But did I?

As I sat there in Terry’s ancient but supremely comfortable barber’s chair, I did a silent comparison of the two hairdressers that were vying unconsciously for my future custom.  Here is my score chart:

Terry Posh salon
hair wash 0 8
refreshments 4 8
chat 9 6
rude jokes 9 0
décor 2 8
newness of magazines 5 9
efficiency 9 4
cost 9 4
quality of haircut 90 90
137 137


Terry doesn’t offer to wash your hair, although he does have a sink.  There is a permanent supply of Werther’s Originals but no fresh coffee.  He charges £8.50 for a 20-minute haircut, against £18.50 for 45 minutes.

Perhaps the most important note is that all the scores are out of ten, except the final one, which is out of 100.  This is because the quality of the cut is the most important metric by an overwhelming margin.

The only reason I go to get my hair cut is because my hair is too long!  It’s not because I want to read the latest magazines, or drink coffee, or hear rude jokes.  These things are all incidental bonuses.

In the end, the final result (the haircut) is all that matters.

‘Executive’ Recruitment

In the same way – when recruiting a senior employee, you could pay (typically) 33% of the successful candidate’s remuneration to one of the big-name ‘Executive Search’ firms, or you could pay (typically) 20% to a good-quality ‘normal’ recruitment agency (e.g. Blues Point), with a conclusion that might be exactly the same.

In other words, you find the right person for your business.

But unlike a haircut, which is the result of the hairdresser’s skill, the end result of a high-level recruitment project is not the direct result of the recruiter’s skill.  It’s a human being.

It’s actually quite probable that it would have been exactly the same human being no matter which agency you used!  The key is being able to assemble a shortlist of qualified, credible candidates, and knowing how to narrow that shortlist down to one.  In essence, it’s a simple job.

Why pay more?

So where does the extra 13% go?

I’ll tell you where it goes!  On fresh coffee, on prestigious offices, on marketing, and on vanity.  Yes, there is a premium charged for vanity.  The perception is that if you pay more, then you are getting a better service, but – as Terry has proved – a successful end result is the only thing that actually matters, and the ‘service’ is almost irrelevant, as long as it leads to this.

A good recruitment agency needs solid foundations in place, of course: an extensive network of contacts, access to the right databases, professional staff, a nailed-down process, and a choice of technical and psychometric assessments.  But beyond this, the rest is vanity.

Coffee cup


As I waved goodbye to Terry and waded through the carpet of that day’s hair clippings on my way out of the door, I reflected on all of this.  Did I enjoy my experience enough at the posh salon to spend £18.50 plus tip every 3 weeks, or would my £8.50 haircut do?

No contest.  I don’t drink coffee anyway!

If you’d like to have an ‘executive search’ experience with all the fundamentals firmly in place but without the vanity, then give us a call on 01283 530923.