Photo by Kristina Flour

When a company is looking to hire a new manager, the search and selection process often entails secrecy and discretion. Why such a process cannot be conducted openly and transparently?

Why would a company want to keep an executive search confidential?

Confidentiality is necessary for several reasons and the identity of our clients cannot always be revealed. The job position might be still occupied by a manager that the company intends to replace. There can be all kinds of reasons why a manager will be replaced but usually, organisations will replace a manager only when the successor is ready to start. The position could be too important to keep it vacant for a long time, or the company does not want to reveal to the competitors that there is a problem in a certain area of their business. Online job advertisements are very good sources of information that your competitors use for collecting intelligence about what is happening in your company. Another reason for confidentiality could be that the organisation wishes to exclude some internal colleagues from participating in the recruitment process due to a conflict of interest, or to prevent them from influencing the process in any way. Sometimes the company has yet to build a great reputation or operates in a less popular industry but wants to get a chance to discuss their plans with strong candidates before they just withdrew by reading the name of the employer. The opposite could also be a reason. The company is highly attractive and does not have time or will to go through a long and highly labour-intensive advertisement campaign, being flooded with numerous CVs, but rather conduct the search under the radar screen and avoid publicity. One more reason which we encounter from time to time is that the client wants us to prepare a market map to identify who are potentially interesting candidates for them, before they actually decide for a new hiring or to be ready when the light is green.

Therefore, when confidentiality is key, the company is often engaging an executive search consultant in order to keep the search as confidential as possible.

How do we keep an executive search confidential?

After we are briefed, we start a research to identify potential candidates. In that stage potential candidates have not yet been contacted but it is already possible that information leaks. Perhaps the client who urges for confidentiality is not careful enough and mentions the search privately or in his/her network. Some clients are very keen to come up with their own candidates’ list but cannot refrain from already contacting or hinting at some of their favourite candidates. An incapable head-hunter could fall into the same trap. It is usually a bad strategy to use a sentence as ‘I will tell you something but do not tell it to anybody” to keep things confidential. It goes without saying that digitalization and data management offers plenty of opportunities to leak information when jobs are advertised. Even, when the advertising recruitment company does not mention the name of its client, usually it is not very difficult to figure it out. Only an executive search company that operates under the radar screen and is able to build a good relationship with potential candidates can convince all stakeholders that confidentiality in the early stages of the process suits both clients and candidates.

In some cases, the client might ask the candidates to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is, however, an exception. One way to maintain confidentiality is to keep the number of people informed about the search to the minimum and to limit as much as possible any written correspondence. At the beginning of a search, we try to avoid mentioning specific information about the job position and to collect information about leadership skills, achievements, and working experience of potential candidates. On one hand, we need to find out if a potential candidate is genuinely interested in a new career opportunity even before he/she knows which exact opportunity we are about to offer. On the other hand, we do not want to waste the time of our client and the candidate finding out in a later stage that the candidate does not have sincere intentions to move on. We experienced that building trust with clients and candidates, demonstrating that we are able to guard their confidentiality, usually works well. We have to be inventive to find the right balance between providing relevant information to candidates about a vacancy, which will help them to make an initial decision and, at the same time, not disclosing confidential information about our client.

Photo by Tayeb Mezahdia

How to protect the confidentiality of candidates?

Most people have found themselves in a situation where they had doubts on how to move further in their careers. It is almost never fully clear how the future looks like and it is obviously not always greener on the other side of the river. Although you might have a strong motivation to move on to another challenge or company, you would still like to check out opportunities without making too much noise. Therefore, you would expect that recruiters and potential employers will keep your (potential) candidacy for a specific job position confidential during the process of getting to know each other and going through the selection. Unfortunately, in our experience, employers do not always respect the confidentiality of their candidates. This is often unintentional; they just do not take all measures which should secure candidates from participating in a recruitment process without fear of leaking the information about their identity and the outcomes of their assessments.

What should you expect from an employer and/or recruiter regarding the protection of your confidentiality? First of all, a recruiter should never share your documents like your resume with anybody without your consent. Make sure that you verify this if the recruiters do not bring it up themselves. You could also ask the recruiter if they have an exclusive agreement with their client in order to prevent that your resume will randomly float around, used by questionable recruiters that are hunting for new clients. Your best bet is to only be in touch with executive search companies that have a good and trustworthy reputation on your local market. Meeting online or in the recruiter’s office is safer and a better guarantee for a professional interview than meeting in restaurants, hotel lobbies, or cafes. General advice is to avoid the so-called ‘name-droppers’. In job interviews, there is a fine line between self-confidence and over-confidence and recruiters or employers that are constantly dropping names will probably drop your name as well, which is something you would like to avoid.

Once you are invited for an interview with your potential future employer, ask them directly (or via your recruiter) who will be present in the meeting (this information you also need for your preparation) and how will they safeguard your confidentiality. Unfortunately, we have seen bad examples of candidates that were led through big open spaces of offices and interviewed in a transparent space, observed by numerous employees. Try to avoid this by letting them know that you respect and appreciate full confidentiality.

We believe that both employers and job candidates have the right to be treated with respect and their confidentiality should be protected. At New Europe Resourcing we are dealing each day with confidentiality. We are constantly in touch with all stakeholders and make big efforts to make it comfortable and safe for them from the beginning until the end of the process. One of the tools that we can use to confidentially collect more information about candidates is to organise a reference check. There are transparent ways to organise a reference check including the consent of the candidate but on this, we will further elaborate in our next article.

‘New Europe Resourcing’s consultants have conducted thousands of executive search interviews and gained valuable insights. Through regular client and candidate surveys, we additionally collected a wealth of information and knowledge.’