The Candidate Experience

I am often asked to speak at events where my audience is comprised mainly of executives in transition. Sometimes these are employed professionals seeking better opportunities, but the majority of these individuals are, for one reason or another, unemployed. Invariably, at some point in the conversation, I feel the need to apologize for the way they are often treated by people in my profession.

From the candidate perspective, working with retained executive search firms can be a frustrating process. I hear stories of candidates never getting feedback on interviews, communication that is intermittent at best, and a general sense that the individual is a commodity – and these stories are from the candidates who are actively working with a search firm on a real opportunity. For those who are trying to build a relationship within executive search, the stories are even bleaker. I haven’t done any grand research on the topic, but the general consensus I have gathered is that the executive search profession on the whole just doesn’t treat people very well; and in my mind, beyond the fact that its bad behavior, it’s also just plain bad for business.

We are extensions of our clients. How I treat a potential candidate will have a direct impact on that person’s perception of the company I represent. And, whether that executive ends up being a bona fide candidate for the position I am seeking to fill, they will remain a potential customer or business partner for my client. If they were treated well, given honest feedback about why they didn’t make the cut, receive communications in a timely manner, and feel as if you are trying to make the best match vs. pushing them towards taking a job, the candidate’s experience will generally raise their perceptions of the client whether they get the job or not. Conversely, if they aren’t treated well, they are more likely to come away with a negative impression of not only the search firm but the company they represent.

Before the age of social media, search firms could get away with bad behavior. A negative candidate experience had little chance of having significant repercussions for either the search firm or its clients. Today, with sites like and out there, it only takes a few key strokes for a mistreated candidate to make their perceptions known to a global audience. While we are in the business of enhancing our clients’ leadership capabilities, we are also stewards of their employment brand and, in that capacity, the executive search industry is failing miserably.

If any buyers of executive search are reading this, I encourage you to include the candidate experience as a component of how you evaluate the performance of your search partners. If you are in corporate recruitment, take a look at your own processes because you are just as bad as we are in this area and sometimes worse.

So, for all of you frustrated by your experience with retained executive search, you have my heartfelt apology. I will do my best to return your calls…