Retained Firms Will Present You to Only One
Client at a Time
A retained search firm will present you to no
more than one client at a time, except in very unusual circumstances.
Don’t ask or expect them to show you multiple
positions at once – if they do that, they will get their clients very upset.
When a retained search firm presents a panel of candidates to a client
(that could be anywhere from three to six candidates on most searches),
they want the client to be able to choose anyone in that
panel. They’re hoping that you (assuming you’re one of the
candidates) are not going to get hired by someone else before their
client makes their selection.
They can’t stop you from continuing your job search, but they can
certainly stop you from being presented in any of their other
searches. So if they’re working on a position that fits you
well in Louisville, and you have your heart set on moving back to
Kentucky where you grew up, they won’t let you know about it.
Even if you’re still in the talking stage about another position and
are a month away from being presented (if you’re presented at all), the
search firm won’t let you know about any other positions. Once a
consultant in a firm has you assigned to her, you remain in her domain
until she releases you. No other consultant in the firm is allowed to
Does this not sound fair to you? Remember how much
you paid the search firm for their services - nothing. They have no
obligation to look out for your interests.
Periodically, when I interview someone for a position, he’ll ask, “Do
you have anything else?” He may be thinking that I’ll do what
a contingency firm will do, and get him in front of multiple companies.
Instead, I’ll start thinking, “Is he really interested in this
position?” I may not be correct, but I become skeptical, and
his chances of being presented for the position I’m interviewing him
for just dropped.
One friend of mine, an unemployed hospital exec, was seeking a CEO
position. He kept learning of hospitals that were seeking
CEO’s in his area. He would then dutifully dig until he found the name
of the search consultant that had been retained to fill the position
(hospitals almost universally hire a retained search firm when they
hire a CEO, and the lion’s share of them go to one of two firms, either
Witt Kieffer or Diversified Search). He generally found that a
consultant at Witt Kieffer was handling the search, and would contact
that person. He was continually frustrated when the consultant never
called him back. At one point, he said to me, “I’d like to have Witt
Kieffer talking to me about three or four jobs – I know they’re working
on them – while I wait to hear back from that hospital they presented
me to a month ago.”
I explained to him that Witt Kieffer will
never talk to him about another position until the other client said no
regarding the position they've presented him for (a position that he considered only marginally interesting, by the
way). He was stunned, but few candidates understand the
mechanics of retained search. I told him that the best way to proceed
when he learned of a CEO opening was to get himself connected to
someone on that hospital’s board of directors, and if he couldn’t, he
should mail his resume to the Chairman of the Board.
Clients, particularly during CEO searches, pass resumes of potential
candidates who come to them to the search consultant they’ve engaged
for evaluation against other candidates. If you’ve already been
presented to another client by that search firm, they may simply try to
swallow your resume – if they can. They won’t be able to do this if you
come to the firm with enough push – you were either highly recommended
by someone the client respects, or the client found your resume
At that point, the search firm will have to give you a thorough review
and you may get presented to more than one client by the search firm
(as they grit their teeth), because the client is likely to ask what
they thought of you. If they say you didn’t pass muster, and then the
client learns that a competitor hires you through a search by the same
firm, they’ll look bad.
Notez Bien regarding going BACKDOOR: Don't go directly to the client if a retained search firm has previously contacted you about the position. You won't
be enhancing your position by doing so. You'll simply be handed by the
client back to the retained search firm, who will then blacklist you
from any future searches. I've had candidates who I have interviewed
and not presented as a finalist go backdoor on me. I've simply told
the client why I didn't choose to present the candidate, and they have
always gone along with my recommendations. Clients trust the retained
search consultant's judgment, or they wouldn't have retained him.