The history and rise of the profession Executive Search

Gloria Sotomayor

In this year that IESF celebrates its 20th anniversary, we thought it would be a good idea to take a break and, for a moment, go back to basics; to understand where we come from and why we continue to be a fundamental service for companies around the world. Recruiting and Headhunting practices have been present throughout generations, being a discipline that has been fundamental for the professional formation of large work teams and of significant importance for companies worldwide. It continues to have an increasing impact on business today, but how did this need and urgency to find qualified people to effectively fill thousands of vacancies emerge? Read all about the history and rise of the profession in this article from author Gloria Sotomayor, part of North Hunters, IESF Mexico.


Although modern recruiting can be traced back to the early 20th century, history indicates that its most basic form dates back to various military recruiting tactics used during ancient Egypt, Rome and Imperial China. In 1482, Leonardo DaVinci became the first person to write a professional resume (what today has evolved into the CV). Seeking work in Milan, Italy, DaVinci wrote a letter to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, describing his various skills, as well as referencing his past work. Added to the first CV, the first recruitment agency was created in 1653 by Henry Robinson, who argued that an “Office of Addresses and Encounters” was needed to help connect active and prospective employees. Unfortunately, the British Parliament declined the proposal, but Robinson opened his office anyway.

Modern Recruiting

In 1926 Thordike Deland founded the first executive recruiting firm charging its clients a percentage of their first year’s compensation.

World War II was important to the development of the talent attraction and selection processes we know today. During the war, employment agencies began recruiting workers who were not obligated to any military service to fill job vacancies left by those who were called to service. This continued after the conflict ended, not only to fill the vacancies of people who regrettably did not return, but also to reintroduce the people who returned to the workplace. The latter came with new skills learned during their time away, which would be fundamental to complement the technological development of the era.

This beginning of modern recruiting brought with it the creation of Headhunters, as several soldiers in Europe took advantage of the development of their new “special skills” to not only promote themselves, but also their fellow soldiers who had just returned from service.

In the late 1950s, there was a great need for vacancies in industry and politics due to increasing industrialization and strong technological development. To solve this problem, and following in Deland’s footsteps, Sid Boyen developed the role of the true “Executive Search consultant”, which helped potential candidates gain direct access to positions for which they were qualified.

The strong economy of the 1970’s led to a period of relative prosperity and growth, which led large corporations to begin outsourcing their hiring efforts to headhunters and recruiting firms.

By the early 1980’s Headhunter firms had robust processes and were structured around industry and functional specialties.

Today, the business world has a myriad of Headhunting firms whose primary objective is to identify the best talent to help fill their clients’ needs.

Post Covid Era

The Covid pandemic strongly changed our business; the sudden stop of global operations in most sectors hit us hard and there were many firms that did not survive by the end of 2020.

However, not everything has been negative. Thanks to this global crisis, we have been able to develop new processes and implement trends that have helped us to continue offering our services, constantly adapting to change:

– Remote interviews are here to stay; what was previously an almost null practice (and frowned upon) has become an efficient resource for conducting recruitment work.

– Working from home has meant that recruiters are no longer limited by company location, resulting in access to a much wider pool of candidates.

– Companies/clients are more open to being a more active part of the recruitment process, as they now take more account of candidates’ needs. If they want to stand out, they now must actively “sell” themselves to candidates by offering relevant benefits, such as a flexible working environment or health and wellness packages.

Why are we still key players when looking for talent?

  1. Our experience & knowledge of the market, as well as response time continues to be a benefit to help companies have the best talent.
  2. Even though the market has easy-to-use professional networking platforms where you can find countless candidates, only a trained headhunter has the experience and tools to search the network thoroughly and find candidates with specified & complex profiles.
  3. The network of professionals we have is not limited to one type of sector, industry or professional level. We are experts in generating long term relationships, in keeping our contacts active and generating alliances that help us when looking for talent.
  4. Our ability to adapt allows us to work in different sectors, levels and types of business, generating a more extensive knowledge of the labor market. If we add to this our ability to research, investigate and inquire, we have a winning strategy to find the talent our clients need.
  5. Not only do we help our clients find the talent they need, but we also help them understand how they are positioned and what improvements they can make to be more competitive in the marketplace.
  6. We know how to attract talent because we understand the motivation of candidates and we help our clients understand their needs to provide better job proposals.
  7. WE CHANGE LIVES; our work is not limited to finding the ideal candidate for a position, we also go further. We touch people’s lives to offer them a chance to make improvements in their work and personal lives.

So the next time a headhunter knocks on your door, don’t hesitate to listen to them, because you don’t know what benefits they can bring.


About the author

Gloria Sotomayor


Has a degree in Clinical Psychology and have received training from various institutions in topics related to human development, competency-based interviewing techniques, consulting skills, process analysis and selection and recruitment techniques. And recently completed a Synergology Training. Has more than 25 years of professional experience in recruitment and selection of middle management, managers and executives for national and international companies, as well as experience in new business development and HR related project management.
Has worked in both international (KPMG) and national firms (Transearch Mexico, Creo Services & North Hunters).
During 2010 to 2020, developed her own headhunting & executive search practice at GS TalentSearch.
Currently returned to GS TalentSearch to continue develop the business by her own.

Extensive experience in managing projects related to search processes: mapping, pre-selection, in-depth telephone interviewing, professional resume development, job reference research. Experienced in all sectors (Multi-industries).

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest