THE CANDIDATE'S BILL OF RIGHTS
Download PDF Versions:
What to Expect from A Professional Executive Search Firm
It often happens when you least expect it. Out of the blue you receive a call from an
executive search firm, wanting to know if you might have an interest in a position they are
trying to fill for a client.
The opportunity seems promising, but you do not know what to expect. What does the
process entail? How long will it take? What will the search firm expect from you? Most
important, what are your rights and obligations during the process? As a potential search
candidate, you are entitled to ask these questions and to have them answered.
In retained executive search, consultants endeavor to provide qualified candidates for
clients who wish to fill senior-level positions. Although contractual obligations exist only
between the search firm and client, search consultants also build professional and ethical
relationships with candidates, whom they may remain in contact with over a period of years.
Members of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), the worldwide
professional organization for retained executive search firms, subscribe to a code of ethics
that states that these relationships should be characterized by honesty, objectivity, accuracy
and respect for confidentiality. Strict adherence to this code is a requirement for all AESC
Furthermore, AESC members believe that the most successful executive searches involve
a three-way partnership, whereby the candidate, the search firm and the client fully
understand their rights, duties and obligations to each other during the search process. As
such, we believe that all search candidates have a right to:
The Candidate's Bill of Rights
When you become an executive search candidate, you put yourself at a certain amount
of risk with your current employer. For that reason, you are entitled to the highest levels
of confidentiality from the search firm and the client organization. To safeguard your
confidentiality, the search consultant should:
- Following a meeting to discuss your
candidacy, obtain your authorization
before submitting your name and a report
on you to the client organization
- Upon your request, contact you directly
rather than through your assistant or
anyone else in your current company
- Not contact references provided by you
without your permission
- Not discuss your potential candidacy
with anyone outside the search firm,
and ensure that all employees of the
firm abide by the same rules
- Caution the client to also safeguard your
It is important to remember that you do not become a search candidate until the
consultant has conducted an initial evaluation of your suitability for the position and you
have expressed an interest in it. If either of these two criteria are missing, you cannot
be considered a candidate for the position. However, even if the position about which
you are being contacted is not right for you at the present time, you may still benefit from
conversations with search consultants by being kept up to date with the market for your
skills and experience. Candidates not selected on one search may be selected on another.
II. Full Disclosure
In order to make the right decision, you need to know as much as possible about the search
firm you are talking to, the position and the client organization. This ultimately requires full
and open disclosure regarding:
- The nature and requirements of the
- The compensation package
- Whether relocation is required
- Pertinent information regarding the
Be aware, however, that during your first conversation, when you are still being evaluated
as a potential candidate for the position, the search consultant is under no obligation to
divulge confidential information about the position or the client. Only after you have been
identified as a legitimate candidate should you expect the consultant to disclose more than
the most basic information. Even then, there are times when certain information about the
client must remain confidential until the final stages of the search process.
The search consultant should also make clear whether he or she has been retained by the
client to manage the appointment in question. Retained executive search consultants work
under an exclusive contract with the client organization; and thus have not only confidential
access to the client on that assignment but have their full and committed attention. If the
consultant fails to notify you of this important fact, do not hesitate to ask.
III. Timely Communication
The completion of an executive search assignment can often take several months, with many
steps between initial contact and the ultimate hiring of the successful candidate. Once
you become an active candidate, the search firm should communicate with you in a timely
manner at each and every step of the process. This means proactively updating you on the
progress of the search as well as responding in a timely manner to any inquiries initiated by
Based on his or her understanding of the position and the client’s needs, the search
consultant should give you an honest appraisal of where you seem to fit the opportunity
and where you do not seem to fit. If at any point in the process the client decides not to
proceed with your candidacy, the consultant should provide as complete an explanation of
the client’s decision as possible.
V. Professional Treatment
Search consultants are expected to comply with all the employment laws that apply
to the normal hiring process. In addition, they should also demonstrate a high level of
professionalism with each and every candidate. Professional treatment means that the
- Has a clear understanding of the position
and the client’s expectations for it
- Conducts an organized, well thoughtout
- Shows up on time and well-prepared for
- Demonstrates in-depth knowledge of
the market and the client
- Answers all your questions in an honest
and forthright manner
VI. Adequate Process Details
As a search candidate, you are entitled to know what to expect as the process unfolds. For
example, what is the anticipated time frame for the first round of interviews? If you make
the first cut, what happens next? Most search consultants will readily volunteer this kind of
information. If they do not, make a point to ask. In particular, be prepared at any stage in
the proceedings to ask:
- How long will this take?
- Who do I have to meet with before a
decision is made?
- What time frame is the client
- What is the next step?
VII. Respect for Your Time and Position
The search consultant understands that, as a senior level executive, your current position
demands your full time and attention. When scheduling appointments and interviews, the
search consultant and the client should demonstrate the utmost respect for your time, your
position and your responsibilities to your employer.
VIII. Consistency Between the Search Firm and Their Client
The search consultant and the client should always do their best to be on the same
wavelength in terms of the information they present to you. Keep in mind, however, that
while the search consultant represents the client organization, they do not have complete
control over the client’s communication with you during the process. If changes occur that
contradict the information given to you by the consultant, you should ask for clarification.
IX. No Pressure
The best executive search placements happen when the candidate has the time to make
a measured, well-thought out decision. For this reason, the search consultant should
never try to hurry your decision or put undue pressure on you to accept an offer. However,
the consultant should keep you informed of any deadlines imposed by the client and the
implications for not making a decision prior to those deadlines.
X. A Trusting Relationship
If the search consultant conducts him or herself in a manner befitting these guiding principles,
you should naturally develop an open and trusting relationship. Conversely, if for any reason
you do not feel you can trust the search consultant or the client, you would be well served
to withdraw from the process. Keep in mind that the best search consultants strive for more
than just filling the position for their client; they want to help you make the best decision for
you, your family and your career.
Concluding the Search
If the client decides to hire you to fill the position, you have arrived at one of the most
important stages of the search process: negotiation of your employment agreement. This
can involve highly sensitive issues in which the search consultant can play a crucial role of
intermediary to ensure open and effective communication between client and candidate.
Use this honest broker channel of communication to candidly express any concerns or
special requirements that you may have on terms and conditions.
When the search process is completed and you have signed on the dotted line, some search
consultants will stay in touch with you for three to six months to make sure that your
transition into the new position is a success. Feel free to contact your consultant with major
concerns that arise. He or she may well be able to help sort out problems, and diplomatic
intervention by the search consultant will normally not be resented by the client. However,
search consultants are not professional coaches, and thus their role here may be limited.
If your candidacy does not result in a hire, most consultants will want to keep you in their
pool of candidates for future assignments. They may contact you from time to time to
maintain the relationship and keep you appraised of any upcoming assignments. They may
also use you as a resource to help identify candidates for assignments that are not a good fit
for you. If you developed a good relationship with the search consultant, you may want to
take your own steps to maintain the relationship as well.
Regardless of the outcome of the search, the consultant may not use your name or the
results of the search as testimonials without your permission.
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
The executive search process is not a one-way street. Although you have a right to expect
courteous, professional treatment from the search consultant and the client, there are a
number of things you can do to facilitate the process and advance your standing.
- Be honest. Under no circumstances should
you inflate your resume, misrepresent your
work history or "hold some cards back."
Also, be genuine about your interest (or
lack of) in the position. Complete and
accurate disclosure by the candidate is an
essential element in the search process.
- Be flexible. Make every effort to fit
appointments and interviews within your
- Educate yourself. Conduct your own
due diligence on the search firm and
the client organization, and understand
the unique value of retained executive
- Have realistic expectations. Understand
that the process takes time and that
you will be one of several qualified
- Negotiate in good faith. Do not lead
search consultants to believe you are
negotiating only with them if you are
considering offers from more than one
Above all, do not think you have a "done deal" just because you develop a close relationship
with the search consultant. Remember that the consultant’s job is to present several
qualified candidates to the client, and it is the client who makes the ultimate decision.
Making the Connection
How do you get on the “radar screen” of leading search firms around the world? One of the
best ways is to register with BlueSteps.com, a service of the Association of Executive Search
Consultants. Doing so will raise your visibility with the most appropriate search firms in an
efficient, economical and confidential manner.
It will also ensure that any search firms who contact you from the BlueSteps global database
subscribe to the highest ethics and standards as put forth by the AESC.
The more you know about the executive search process, the better you can position
yourself should you become an executive search candidate. In the meantime,
remember that the most successful executive searches involve those where you, the
search consultant and the client know your rights and obligations within the search
process and adhere to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct.
The Association of Executive Search Consultants is the worldwide professional association representing
retained executive search firms. The AESC’s mission is to promote the highest professional standards in
executive search consulting, broaden public understanding of the executive search process, and serve as
an advocate for the interests of its member firms. General information about the Association and the
executive search profession can be found at www.aesc.org.
Return to Industry Standards menu.