Confidential Searches - How do you interest passive candidates when you can't say who your client is...

Lately I've been getting some confidential searches and I've been asked not to let the candidate know who my client is until the client has indicated interest in meeting with the candidate.

Candidates who are not in the active job market are not thrilled about submitting a resume when they don't know where it's going to go.  


I feel like I need some better angle on how to get around this.  One client is a well known and impressive brand so it's easier.  The other is a small firm in a small town outside of Philadelphia.  

Thanks!!  

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I don't think I'd be able to agree to that with the client. 

 

Asking a professional to allow his resume to be submitted and considered for a role with a company is a big question.  I don't think it's fair to them to expect the company to know their name, but not have the same in return.

 

If my client expected this level of confidentialilty I would also suggest that they share the same confidentiality from the other side - and send candidates in without any name, address or other specific info.  That would be fair.

 

Having that agreement from the client should help you persuade your candidate to explore it - as they would be kept confidential as well.


But my main focus would be to understand why the client needs this degree of confidentiality.  Maybe they're replacing someone.....or perhaps they have had quite a few hack recruiters blab their name so much it gives the talent pool the idea that somethings wrong.  I guess there are lots of reasons for them to ask this of you.

 

I'd prefer that once I've identified a candidate that is interested I let them know where there resume is going.  It's the professional thing to do.

Sandy, I've faced this situation during executive leadership replacement searches. I was a bit surprised that it wasn't as difficult as I had thought it might be, even with passive candidates. My best advice is to be as transparent as possible with regard to other aspects of the opportunity (without giving away the client's identity, of course). If you provide a reasonable explanation as to why the client desires confidentiality, and if you can give the candidate an idea of when in the process the client may be revealed, some will be intrigued and proceed. I will tell them "this is a legitimate opportunity and under normal circumstances I would gladly identify the client organization, but I have to respect their request to remain anonymous for now." If necessary I will then restate the client's reasons, i.e., sensitivity about a replacement situation, potential for competitive hijinks, reluctance to spook customers or internal staff, etc.

If I get a sense that a candidate is interested but not sure, I "pay them back" for their trust by assuring them that THEIR confidentiality will also be protected during the process. If someone is really worth pursuing but is pushing back, I have also offered to blind their resume before submittal (fair is fair after all and my clients were always OK with that). If there is sufficient interest after that, then of course we reveal the candidate's particulars.

I have found that complete transparency and honesty are always the best way to go. There is something disarming about reaching a point in a conversation when you say "I'm sorry. You have a great point and it is reasonable to be interested in knowing which company we're talking about. I'd feel the same way. But I am duty-bound to honor my client's request. I realize that some people may bow out at this point, but I am willing to put my credibility on the line and encourage you to stay in the game. Treat yourself to a little intrigue in the short term and take a relatively small risk to explore this. I believe you'll be glad you did, regardless of the outcome. And you have my commitment that your information will be treated discreetly and professionally as well."

At this point you have put all of your cards on the table, or at least all of the cards you are permitted to play. You have given it your best shot to bring the candidate along in a truthful and ethical way. Whether or not they are willing to take the risk is up to them as it should be. In fact, I would also add "If you are willing to proceed with me to explore this, I think it sends a strong message to the client that you are willing to take smart, managed risks for a potentially nice payoff. I'll make sure to convey this to them when I draft your profile for submission."

A small number of candidates weren't willing to proceed. If they declined in a blustery way, I'd just move on. But if I had a sense that they were very close, I'd say "Thanks for hearing me out. I respect your decision. Can we stay in touch on this, though? Searches like this can be very dynamic and if the client eventually allows me to share additional information, I'd like to circle back with you to share that. Of course, by that time we may already have a solid pipeline of contenders, but again, I'd like to give you the option to reconsider if that happens. Does that make sense?" This is a good way to keep a good person on warm, and is also a great way to maintain a value-based relationship. After all, if a person really is strong enough to try to woo, why wouldn't I want to stay in touch? Finally, the thought of possibly missing out or coming late to the party will trigger some people to say what the hell, I'm in. And it has not been done in a manipulative way. The key is to empathize with the candidate, underscore your obligations to the client, and find ways to generate trust so that they will come along with you on this adventure.  Good luck...Chris

Jerry, I completely agree with everything in your rationale. It goes against my natural instincts to tip the balance of power toward one side or the other like that. It also serves to remind the candidate that ultimately my bill is paid by the client, and this can have the effect of them questioning my motives and wondering whose best interests I really have at heart. I do my best to orchestrate a  "meeting of equals" when I'm rolling out my process; it's a two-way evaluation process.

In my case above, I made a business decision to take on this search because I had a fantastic bank of trust and goodwill with this client. They explained their reasons and they made sense to me especially in the context of a very niche industry where I operate (and where I sat as a business owner just like them in my previous life). So for me it became a challenge that I accepted.  As I mentioned above, I was surprised that it went better than I thought it would (and I'm normally a realistic optimist). In fact I wound up placing two CEOs in two different divisions within this private equity-owned enterprise, both of them confidential searches. I also added quite a few awesome C-suite candidates to my network and I think I distinguished myself among those people because of the way this somewhat atypical search was handled. Would I go out looking for more searches like this? I actually might. I enjoyed the challenges and the quirks of it once I accepted the ground rules and shut out thoughts of "why are they making me do it this way?"

To your comment that I quoted below-- I actually used that line almost verbatim with the candidates I approached. I said it right up front before transitioning to the reasons why I couldn't do that in this case. The next step was critical because it involved the leap of faith part I mentioned. Most came along for the ride, which was gratifying for the client, the candidate, and me!

Jerry Albright said:

I'd prefer that once I've identified a candidate that is interested I let them know where there resume is going.  It's the professional thing to do.

Thank you both very much for your thoughtful replies.  I was afraid I wasn't 'trickster' enough or something like that.  I am a very straight shooter, and strive to be completely honest.  I like to be transparent so this really goes against my grain.  

I'm with you, Jerry:  I like to tell the candidate who it is as soon as they're interested.  Gone are the days when I didn't know too much about the candidate on my initial call and I might have been a little cagey.  With LinkedIn, I know that every person I call is uniquely qualified for the job so if they are interested I let them know who my client is right away.  Confidentiality is so much more important to the candidate than to the client.

I'm a PR/Marketing recruiter.  The Philadelphia area client is one I've worked with before and I like them.  They've retained me to help them find a new head of PR for their full service PR/Marketing/ Advertising firm.  Philly is such a small market that they're afraid competitors will go after their business when they hear that the head of the practice is leaving. But candidates are afraid because everyone knows everyone...

The well known luxury brand is replacing two people that have been there for a while. I feel so uncomfortable about not being able to say who it is, that it puts me in a weak position with the candidate. It just seems so "unbalanced" to use your term, and that's why i was writing for help.  But I think it's not that i'm playing it wrong, but it is what it is, and that's not the way it should be.

I've been very honest about why it is confidential and the more senior candidates are totally fine with it but the Director level candidates in Philly are scared to let their resumes get out there.  I like your advice, Chris, about asking the candidate who won't take a chance if I can circle back to them later in the process.  I'm hoping that once the current Practice Lead exits, my l client will face the music and feel less vulnerable. Then I can go back to them and tell who my client is.

Thanks so much for addressing my question!  It's great to have a forum like this to discuss these things.  This exchange has been very helpful!

Sandy, I believe that part of the art of recruiting (or any sales activity) is making a plausible virtue out of whatever features and benefits you've got. Emphasis on the "plausible"...you can't just make #$@% up out of whole cloth or you'll be dismissed as a dope or worse, a weasel. It calls for respectfully (and virtually) putting your hands on the other person's shoulders and nudging them to stand in a new position to see the situation from a new perspective.

That said, you provided some insanely valuable insights in your comment below. Turn it around as a benefit to the candidates that this is a confidential search: "My client is a very savvy player in this market. They know the risks of not staying in stealth mode with this search. In exchange for their insistence on anonymity, they are committed to protecting your identity as well. Like you, these are PR pros and they know how to manage information flow. And like you, they know that opportunities to influence outcomes-- and careers-- can be fleeting and must be grabbed when they surface. So now you know everything that I'm ethically permitted to share with you. If I represent you to this client, I will not jeopardize the trust you've placed in me. That's all I can promise to anyone." Then just let it hang. You have given the candidate everything you can to help them make an informed decision (keeping in mind that life is not perfect and we rarely have every possible fact when making decisions).

Now you can see why this type of nuanced situation jazzes me!

Important PS to my comment above: You must first have actually extracted this promise from the client! (to protect the candidate's identity in the professional community). If this goes bad because of loose lips on the client side, it won't matter to the candidate who was ultimately at fault. YOU will take the heat and will need to own the fiasco.

Sandy Charet said:

Philly is such a small market that they're afraid competitors will go after their business when they hear that the head of the practice is leaving. But candidates are afraid because everyone knows everyone...

Jerry - Great points here. I agree that disclosure is needed or the comfort of the candidates identity being withheld is a strong option.

Jerry Albright said:

I don't think I'd be able to agree to that with the client. 

 

Asking a professional to allow his resume to be submitted and considered for a role with a company is a big question.  I don't think it's fair to them to expect the company to know their name, but not have the same in return.

 

If my client expected this level of confidentialilty I would also suggest that they share the same confidentiality from the other side - and send candidates in without any name, address or other specific info.  That would be fair.

 

Having that agreement from the client should help you persuade your candidate to explore it - as they would be kept confidential as well.


But my main focus would be to understand why the client needs this degree of confidentiality.  Maybe they're replacing someone.....or perhaps they have had quite a few hack recruiters blab their name so much it gives the talent pool the idea that somethings wrong.  I guess there are lots of reasons for them to ask this of you.

 

I'd prefer that once I've identified a candidate that is interested I let them know where there resume is going.  It's the professional thing to do.

I've found that if you are a credible Recruiter/Executive Search Consultant, passive or otherwise candidates aren't that hesitant. Always, there are confidentiality clauses via recruiter's search agreement in place, the candidate is advised of this, the position is presented as specifically as possible..

These things don't stay confidential for long.  After the first person interviews, it's a crap shoot.  Unless they have candidates sign NDA.  Good idea to ask when you can tell them.  

I work a lot of these little treasurers. One thing that has started to work fairly well on several levels is to identify a candidate profile on LinkedIn ask my client to review it. If the client says, hmmm, looks like the background we are looking for, I ask the client's permission to release full info about the job and company if the person is interested in making a change. Normally the client will say "yes if they agree to respect our confidentiality".

I can then contact the person by telling them that I represent a client involved in a confidential search, we have reviewed multiple LI profiles and the client has indicated the public profile reflects the background that is of interest. The person will always immediately ask who is the client. I tell them that I am happy to provide the name but let's go over a few details to be sure you are interested in job, money, location etc. if the subsequent conversation goes well I release full info ask for respect for confidentiality and resume to move forward.

If no interest, I never get to the point of identifying my client.

Going over several profiles with the client also gives me more info about what they really want as the client comments on profiles.

Short form, I tell the candidate it is a confidential search, if my client is interested either from their profile or resume I will give the candidate full info for their research. If they are not interested after they know who the client is, we all shake hands and move on. My client will delete their resume ask for confidentiality. If candidate is hesitant I suggest we submit their resume with first name only and remove the name of their current company.

I have never had a candidate who is interested in a change and the job/money refuse both of those options.

Bill is oh so right, nothing stays a secret long so the faster all that happens the better. I am finding that identifying several profiles and going over them with the client is working well and candidates seem more interested knowing the client has expressed interest before they were contacted.

Great approach, Sandra. 

The other reason I like these babies is because in my experience, confidential is usually synonymous with exclusive. Not always but usually. The case I described earlier began as a good ole fashioned BountyJobs free-for-all. I was too dumb to know any better and took a flyer on it and next thing you know I had earned preferred and then exclusive status with this client. She became a good friend even after she sold her company.

That's really true, Chris.  As soon as I say "confidential"  I really get their attention. It's like I'm wearing a mink coat. 

And I love Sandra's approach -- showing the LinkedIn profiles is a great idea.  But I still have to enlist the candidate's true interest first...the advertising industry is so competitive-- especially in a small market--and I wouldn't put it past someone to feign initial interest just to hear who I'm working with so they can go poach the business during a time of trouble.  I'm trying to stay very sensitive to my client's situation.

Thanks again...this has been so helpful.

That thought crossed my mind right away...you sometimes have to think like a weasel in order to outmaneuver the weasels.


Sandy Charet said:

I wouldn't put it past someone to feign initial interest just to hear who I'm working with so they can go poach the business during a time of trouble.

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