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Off-Limits - Rarely Discussed but Commonly an Issue

Go to the website of most search firms.  They are similar - approach, team, etc.  But something is often missing.  


This is a topic that is rarely proactive asked about, but has been one of the reasons we have been contacted about new search work.  Off-Limits is a complex topic and one that each search firm does know about.  It is also a topic that most clients know about by some name (or concept) . . . . . the hiring of candidates - placed or not placed - that are employed by your company while the search firm you retained is working with you (or recently worked with you). It is also an area that has been a cause of concern to many of our clients - these clients just never had a name for this anger.  

Four Questions

There are four areas you, as a purchaser of retained search services, should ask about - BEFORE engaging a firm.  

  1. Time:  If you retain a search firm, is there a period of time where the search firm cannot approach people currently working at your company? A search firm, in their due diligence process, will receive inside information about people, the organization and the industry. They know who your great people are and they know how to reach them.  Question number one to be asked - what is the time period that your company is actually NOT approachable?  
  2. Reach:  Many of our clients have multiple offices/facilities in the U.S. and beyond. The positions we fill are often at the headquarter office or at a key facility. The concept of 'reach' addresses what part of the company is really off-limits.  Is it the entire company - all functions AND locations? Is it just the headquarters? Is it only domestic locations? Is it only the function impacted by the search (finance OR operations OR sales, etc.)? This area falls under question number two.  
  3. Incoming Calls:  A sadly all-to-common 'ruse' used by some firms to get around an off-limits promise is to cause a candidate from a client company to call the firm 'proactively.' The assumption is that if the candidate calls the firm, it is okay to accept the call and the off-limits concern is no longer valid. Consider this question number three.
  4. Placed Candidates:  Is there a longer or different off-limits time frame for candidates that you place? The search firm AND the client know this person is good. A firm could place this person every couple of years and make a fee each time. This area of discussion is question number four.

Search Firms Should Welcome Discussion

This general topic falls into a broader discussion - Ethics in Recruiting.  There are multiple other areas you should ask about and fully understand before you enter a partnership with a firm.  These include:

  • Conflicting searches
  • Dual processing of candidates
  • Confidentiality
  • Reference and credential checking

We look forward to your questions and our discussion.