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Job Magician 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 contact you.

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.” 

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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 particularly intriguing.

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.

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