THE CLIENT'S BILL OF RIGHTS
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What to Expect from Your Executive Search Firm
An executive search involves a complex process that requires a substantial investment of your
time and resources. When you hire a retained executive search firm, you’re entitled to receive
a high level of service. But what is the difference between a professional, reliable service and a
lower quality of service? What are your rights and obligations as a client? Above all, how do you
know when you have received excellence in client service?
Search firms will answer most - but not all - of these questions in the consulting contract.
Therefore, the more you know about the ins and outs of working with search firms, the better
your chances of achieving a successful search and receiving full value for your investment. In
the belief that well-educated clients always lead to better client/consultant relationships, the
Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) offers the following “Client’s Bill of Rights.”
I. The executive search firm shall provide you with an accurate and candid assessment of
its capabilities to perform your search.
Not all search firms offer the same services, but they should all operate in line with the highest
professional standards. In addition to the obvious differences in size and manpower, search firms
also vary in their areas of expertise, their knowledge of and contacts within various industries,
and the skills and experience levels of their search consultants.
Before agreeing to undertake any search, the executive search consulting firm should:
- Verify that it has the resources, time,
knowledge and expertise to handle your
- Disclose any and all information with regard
to relationships or circumstances that
might create actual or potential conflicts of
- Define with you which part of your
organization is the “client” (i.e., which
subsidiary, division, department, etc.)
and agree upon the period, if any, during
which the firm will not recruit from the
defined client organization
- Define the scope and character of the
services to be provided and the fees and
expenses to be charged for the services
- Disclose limitations arising through service
with other clients that may affect its ability
to perform the search assignment
This requires that you provide a full and accurate description of your organization, its business
needs and culture, the position to be filled, and your criteria for the ideal candidate. If the search
firm cannot handle your assignment, it should explain why and then refer you to another firm
better equipped to meet your needs.
II. The executive search firm shall tell you who will conduct the search.
In addition to the consultant who generates the business relationship, there may be a team of
professionals who will handle the search assignment.
It is certainly within your rights to ask for and to receive full and open disclosure regarding the
consultants and their ability to successfully handle the assignment, as well as the resources the
firm has available to support the consultant/team working on your project.
The executive search firm shall provide a high-level consultative relationship.
“Retained executive search consulting” is defined as a specialized form of management consulting,
conducted through an exclusive engagement. Its purpose is to assist your organization in defining
executive positions, identifying well-qualified and motivated candidates, and selecting those best
suited through comprehensive, quality assured search processes. In addition to locating high
quality candidates, your search firm should also provide information and feedback that not only
helps direct your search for executive talent but can also be used to run your business more
effectively. This feedback includes:
- Knowledge of the industry in which
the search will be conducted, including
availability of candidates, comparative
assessments of those candidates, and
- General market research regarding how
your organization is perceived in the
market, what your competitors are doing,
and what kind of recruiting strategies
may or may not be working at any given
point in time
Do not expect a 50-page market research report. However, the search firm should give you a
reasonable overview of market conditions and the general perception of your organization in the
marketplace for talent.
IV. The executive search firm shall hold your information in strict confidentiality.
By its very nature, an executive search requires you to divulge highly sensitive information about
your organization. The search consultant must treat any and all information you give them with
the utmost confidentiality.
At the same time, the consultant cannot conduct an effective search without making some
information available to potential candidates. To protect your interests, however, the search
consultant should guarantee that he or she will:
- Use confidential client information only for
the purposes of conducting the assignment
- Disclose client information only to
others within the search firm (who may
be supporting the consultant on this
assignment) or potential candidates who
have a need to know the information
- Never use confidential information for
personal gain or provide that information to
third parties for their personal gain
V. The executive search firm shall demonstrate a clear understanding of the position, the
company and the objectives of the search.
In order to conduct a successful search, the consultant must have a crystal clear understanding
of the position to be filled, the requirements of the job and your company’s culture. Accordingly,
you should insist on receiving a report that details the consultant’s understanding of:
- Your desired level and type of experience
- The background, education and technical skills needed to successfully perform the poisition
- Responsibilities of the position
- Any interpersonal skills needed
Good search firms will do more than just feed back the job description you present them. They
will proactively help you develop, modify and refine your own understanding of the position.
To help with this critical step, give your search consultant access to all those who participate in
the selection process and encourage them to provide full disclosure regarding the position to be
Because the job description represents the bedrock of a successful search, you have a reciprocal
obligation to notify the consultant any time circumstances (either internal or external) require a
change in the position or the type of person you’re looking for. Be aware that a major change in
search specifications may require a change in fees.
VI. The executive search firm shall provide you with regular, detailed status reports on the
progress of the search.
Depending on the position to be filled, the availability of talent and a host of other factors, a
successful search can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. To keep you up-todate,
the search firm should provide ongoing progress reports that include:
- The companies at which the consultant
has tried to target candidates
- The market response to the search
- Obstacles to identifying or attracting
- Candidates currently being developed
The search firm should update you regularly, either by phone, fax, e-mail, written report or some
combination of all four. Let your consultant know your preferences.
VII. The executive search firm shall present qualified candidates who fit the position and
the culture of your organization.
The consultant should present you with a range of qualified potential candidates, whom he or
she has thoroughly assessed and interviewed. The consultant should be able to discuss each
- Experience level and significant
achievements relative to the position to be
- Education and background
- Intellectual, interpersonal and motivation
- Personal strengths and weaknesses with
respect to the position to be filled
- Perceived cultural fit
- Interest in the position
- Remuneration and financial expectations
In presenting candidates, either individually or in a “shortlist,” you should expect the consultant
to discuss the interviewing arrangements and other issues that can affect the critical interviewing
process. Immediately after you have interviewed candidates, your search consultant should
solicit your comments and feedback and help you conduct comparative candidate assessment
The search consultant should also discuss and agree with you how the process of reference and
background checking will be conducted. This should cover references regarding competence and
suitability for the job, verification of employment history and educational credentials and other
issues such as criminal checks. Your own organization may wish to conduct the background and
employment history checks directly or through a third-party investigator. Whoever conducts this
process, it is important that it should be thoroughly completed and to your satisfaction.
If it becomes apparent that the search will take considerably longer than expected or that it may
not yield an acceptable range of candidates, the consultant should inform you as soon as possible
and discuss alternative courses of action.
VIII. The executive search firm shall help you negotiate with the final candidate, representing
both parties with skill, integrity and a high degree of professionalism.
Once you have selected a final candidate, the consultant’s role changes from that of search agent
to negotiator and communicator. At this point, the consultant’s primary function is to help you
bring the candidate on board in a manner that facilitates a long and successful stay with your
organization. This includes:
- Acting as an intermediary between you and
the candidate regarding compensation,
benefits and other conditions of employment
- Feeding back to you any reservations
or concerns the candidate may have
about accepting the position
- Helping the candidate to assess the opportunity
- Working with both sides to create a
“win” for everyone
Although the consultant represents your interests first and foremost, he or she must also remain
sensitive to the needs and concerns of the candidate. To do otherwise significantly reduces
the chances of a successful hire. In addition, representing both parties with integrity and
professionalism ensures two important outcomes:
- The candidate comes aboard feeling that he
or she has been treated fairly
- The search enhances your company’s
reputation in the marketplace
Remember that your candidates are also very busy professionals who have sacrificed valuable
time to talk with you. Furthermore, they did not solicit this opportunity; it was presented to
IX. The executive search firm shall provide you with a clear understanding of its replacement
policy and other unusual situations that may arise during and after the search.
The search firm cannot (and should not be expected to) guarantee to fill your position. The
consultant also cannot guarantee that, once placed, a new hire will stay with your firm. With that
in mind, the consultant should provide (in writing) an explanation of the firm’s policy regarding
possible outcomes. These include:
- The search firm’s obligations and
responsibilities to you should a newlyrecruited
professional leave your company
for any reason within an agreed period of
- Your obligations to the search firm should
you hire a candidate presented during
the current engagement for a position
other than the assigned vacancy
- The conditions under which the search
firm can withdraw from your assignment
or consider it sufficiently changed to start
a new search
X. The executive search firm shall provide you with a reasonable level of follow-through
after you have hired the candidate.
Seemingly successful placements can sometimes fall apart during the transition period. As a
result, the consultant’s responsibility does not end when the candidate accepts the offer. Instead,
the consultant should stay in contact with the new hire as long as necessary to ensure a smooth
transition and help them settle into the new position. Above all, the consultant should make sure
that you are fully satisfied before considering the search a success and concluding the assignment.
Stand up for Your Rights
Given the importance to your organization of filling the position with the highest quality candidate,
you have every right to expect the highest level of service. Remember that by working with a
retained executive search firm you have entered into a consulting partnership.
Take a proactive approach to managing the relationship. Do your homework, provide full and
accurate information regarding the position and the ideal candidate, and where appropriate put
these understandings in writing. Set very clear expectations up front in terms of how you and
the search consultant will work together. Keep the lines of communication open on your end,
and stay in regular contact with your consultant until the assignment has been completed to
If at any time during the search your consultant doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the
assignment, fails to provide ongoing feedback and progress reports, fails to present a range
of qualified candidates or doesn’t represent your firm in the manner you wish, express your
dissatisfaction immediately! Now that you know your rights, it’s up to you to hold your search
firm to the high standard of service that you expect.
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.
The AESC offers a range of information and services to client organizations to help in their relationships
with retained executive search firms. Visit www.executivesearchconnect.com to set up your free
account with CorporateConnect, an AESC service offering access to: the AESC International Executive
Search Directory, executive search industry information, executive recruitment training, conferences
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