Almost every organization wants to operate with high ethics, be professional and treat people well. But many people are unfamiliar with the executive search process and are unclear what they should do and what their search consultant should do. To make matters worse, unscrupulous recruiters eager to take advantage of uninformed clients give the industry a bad name. “Recruiters don’t listen”, “all they want to do is fill a position,” and “they don’t really add any real value to the process” are generalizations that too often fit the more unprofessional in the recruiting profession.
So what should you rightly expect from your executive recruiter?
The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants has adopted a Code of Ethics which is a good starting point for discussion, to help others know what they should expect from their recruiter:
Clearly, one expects honesty in all communication and actions that inspire trust. One area this can be experienced in the search business is in the area of Expenses. What estimate have they given you for expenses in conducting a search? What will those expenses include? Some search consultants don’t interview candidates in person, which keeps the costs down but changes the quality of candidate evaluation to that which can be discerned over the phone or through writing. Some search consultants save their time by having the candidate fly to them. A good search firm will give an upfront estimate of expenses the client should expect and if requested provide copies of all expenses.
Avoid a conflict of interest
Conflicts of interest happen regularly in business and non-profit organizations; like other responsible parties, a recruiter should disclose conflict of interests and resolve them where possible. Conflict of interests can sometimes involve members of the search committee. At no time should a search committee member become a candidate in the search, unless they first resign from the committee, (and not to return later!).
An important question for the search consultant might be, “how do you handle serving more than one client at a time who is seeking the same type of candidate?” The point of course in a firm with multiple searches in the same industry, with similar openings becomes, “Which client gets the candidate who is interested in both opportunities, or does the candidate select one?” “Which client gets the better candidate?” To be sure, larger search firms can allow one recruiter to deny access to “their” candidates for other recruiters so only they can consider that candidate. Another valid option however, is a search firm can commit to not take on two clients simultaneously who are seeking the same type of candidate.
Another important dimension in conflicts of interest is the ethics of “Out of bounds candidates.” When a reputable firm recruits a candidate and places them in your organization, they will not try a month later to recruit away your best staff! That would be like the fox guarding the henhouse, and it is considered unethical. Not only that, but after a candidate is placed in your organization an ethical recruiting firm won’t return in a year to earn another commission by placing him or her somewhere else. The candidate is considered “out of bounds.” The exact duration these staff and former candidates are out of bounds may differ by firm… make sure you ask how long candidates and organizations served by your recruiting firm will be considered “out of bounds.” (For instance, The Dingman Company considers a placed candidate out of bounds for seven years, and all of that organization’s staff is out of bounds for two years). An exception can be granted of course with an employer’s explicit, written permission.
When a current employer or people in an organization find out that an employee, especially higher up in the group, is considering another opportunity, they often question that the person’s commitment. All trust is lost in what they see as a lack of loyalty; some even see it as betrayal. It becomes imperative for those with the organization and with the search firm to establish a proactive process to preserve confidentiality. Expect that process to be well defined and agreed to in advance.
One important dimension of being excellent as an executive search firm is Timeliness. How often have you heard the complaint by job seekers, “They never replied to my application?” In industry, perhaps one receives an automated response from an applicant tracking system, but in non-profits, that may not be the case.
Search committees are primarily volunteers and often new to the search process. A good search consultant will always remember the applicants’ point of view and care for the candidates in the process through truthful, timely statements of tracking the search process, as well as personal feedback to those candidates, which results in a positive experience for both the client and candidate. While a typical search firm has CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software for saving and tracking all applicants’ correspondence, firms that master the personalized touch in candidate care create the best impression on behalf of the client and improve their brand image in the industry.
Bruce Dingman is the president of The Dingman Company. He is a “generalist” working in many industries, one-third of his assignments are in hospitality or senior living, and over half for non-profit/religious/education organizations. The latter is his way of giving back to the things he believes in.
Rich Kidd is the vice president of The Dingman Company. He brings a diversity of leadership experience to the Dingman Company that spans from the business world, across the church community, and into Christian higher education.
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