All things considered, it is preferable for incoming candidates to fill a position that has already been vacated. But, when dealing with some middle to upper level management positions, an extended vacancy due to a termination can be disruptive to productivity. (Another way of putting it: a group of workers without a manager is a department-wide six-hour work day waiting to happen.) In such a case, a company may choose to begin a confidential search.
Once a confidential search has been deemed necessary, a company often seeks the services of an external search firm. This is generally a matter of simple logistics. Recruiting for a position can involve making hundreds of phone calls, screening dozens of resumes, and interviewing multiple candidates several times. In many companies, particularly small to mid-size companies, it may be difficult to keep such an unwieldy process from the notice of the staff.
When a company approaches me with a confidential assignment, I assure the client that I will make every effort humanly possible to maintain the private nature of the search. This means:
· not identifying my client by name during my initial screening phone calls;
· providing potential candidates only general information about the company’s size, industry and location (Instead of The company is a $60 million dollar automotive parts manufacturer located in Aurora, Illinois, I may say, The company is a growing plastics manufacturer in the western suburbs of Chicago);
· not relaying the opportunity to any professional groups in which peers might recognize and identify the company.
At the same time, I advise my client that I cannot guarantee the confidentiality of the search beyond my own personal activity. The recruiting process is based on networking, which is based on people talking; when professionals talk to one another within a given industry and a given geography, the confidentiality of a search will eventually be in jeopardy. I often warn my clients that they have a window of a few weeks within which privacy can be assured.
Generally, candidates will agree to meet with me once without knowing the name of the company, but they will not invest any more time or thought after that until I share the company’s identity. This makes all the sense in the world. If you are a Green Peace advocate in 2010, you certainly are not going to consider a job with BP after the spill. So even if the initial client-candidate interviews are conducted offsite, the confidentiality of the search may have been compromised at that point.
The crux of all this is: if you find yourself choosing to start a search to replace a current employee, you must be prepared to move quickly. Arm yourself with a competent recruiting professional, a well-documented job description, a pre-planned screening process, an organized team of interviewers, and an established time line. Once you start the process, there is no turning back, as word does travel as fast as I can order an extra dry martini, shaken, not stirred.