Back to Latest Posts

Ethics From The ‘Other’ Side – Clients and Candidates

We have been blogging about ‘Ethics In The Search Field’ for years . . . . . we take this topic wildly seriously for many reasons.  (You can find our Ethics-related blogs through – there are 29 of them . . . . . soon to be 30 with this one.)  Most of these posts have addressed our practices as a firm. 

There are other sides to this that are critical to a strong search relationship and outcome.  Let’s discuss a few of the basic topics.

Clients Are Our Partners

There is a relationship aspect to this comment and a legal aspect to this as well.  Let me start on the legal side.  (Please note – I am NOT an attorney nor did I consult one when writing this post.)  We as a search firm, working on a retained search on behalf of a client, are an extension of that client.  Anything we do is on their behalf.  We follow the same laws that our clients follow. 

This past month, I referenced a client who asked us to discriminate (specifically to only present candidates that were under the age of 40).  This was many years ago.  In this search initiation meeting, after the client made their ‘request’, we asked if they could discriminate.  They said NO – of course not; they went on to say that the search firm could, however.  We responded very simply – we are an extension of the company; if they can’t, we can’t.  We ended the meeting and stopped working with that client.  (FYI – that was a Fortune 100 company; our client focus is very different now – small/medium-size clients across multiple industries, profit and non-profit sectors as well as diverse functions.) 


This is a critical topic to discuss with clients repeatedly.  When we approach a candidate, our assumption is that they are gainfully, busily and happily employed.  Our hope – we can make them happier.  They do not want to be a public topic of discussion, even after we present them to the client.  We as the search firm are not at liberty to share their name unless and until they give us their permission.  Once the candidate is presented, clients should not be seeking information on their own from mutual connections or contacts on the candidate.  Someone from the client always knows someone who knows the candidate so they think that they can discretely inquire.  At that point, the secret is out! 

This discreet reference checking can cause irreputable harm to the candidate and their current employment relationship.  Simply put, don’t breach that important boundary. 

Candidates – We Check You Out!

Titles, dates and degrees – such simple items yet this is often where questions and concerns arise.  Tell us the truth (a pretty basic request).  Do not ‘do’ the four F’s:

  • Fib
  • Falsify
  • Fudge
  • Fabricate

We know that some companies and industries under-title or over-title people.  Tell us what your official title is and then tell us what you do, how you do it and with whom you interact.  The actual title matters very little UNLESS you don’t tell us your actual title. 

Dates of employment – if you are in transition, that is not necessarily an issue.  If you say you are currently employed (‘to present’) and you are not, that is an issue.  If you ‘stretch’ dates to cover a gap, this is also an issue.  Gaps happen for so many reasons.  Gaps are not necessarily disqualifiers unless we find out by surprise. 

And your degree – this is a yes or no proposition.  If you list one or more and we want to interview you (to eventually present you to the client), we will verify your education. 

Don’t Lie!

If we end up discovering information during our vetting process (an inflated title, a gap in employment not covered or a falsified degree), we consider this an ethical breach.  We won’t be talking again.  (We code you in our database as Off-Limits; we keep notes – for years.) 

Let us know your ‘ethics in search and selection’ questions – we’d welcome the chance to discuss them with you OR write about them here.