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  • Writer's pictureArtemis Canada

Dear Artemis: How do you navigate confidential searches?

Welcome back to Dear Artemis: Where you ask us tough questions and we use our collective 45+ years of knowledge in the recruiting space to answer them.

Dear Artemis,

We need to do a confidential replacement search. How does this process work and should we work with an executive search partner?

- CEO/Founder

Great question. We’ve worked on many confidential searches, so we asked the team some key questions to draw on their collective experience.

Q: Do you recommend we tell the incumbent about the replacement before we begin the search, or keep it confidential? Why or why not?

In most cases, without having situational context, we recommend confidentiality. It’s hard to predict how your leader could respond to the news. Especially in the case of leaders, it’s important to protect the morality of their teams. Even if you ask them to maintain confidentiality and not share the news, there’s a chance that the news or their upset emotions after the fact could negatively impact those they lead.

The reverse cause could also be harmful: The leader might take this information in stride and

look to get involved with the search and influence decisions. In these cases, pure intentions can still add unnecessary complications to the search and deter candidates.

It’s important to note that not all confidential searches are replacement searches - in some cases, companies look to bring on more senior leaders with the hope of retaining the current leader in a different capacity - or to have the incumbent report to the new leader - which creates an even greater need for discretion and tact during the search process.

Q: Is it really that challenging to maintain confidentiality? Is it possible to do this in-house?

While it is possible to keep this in-house, by doing so you increase your chances of leaking confidentiality by having more internal stakeholders know about the replacement. One key benefit of working with a search partner is limiting internal awareness.

Managing confidential replacements in-house becomes even more difficult if your HR team has personal relationships/friendships with the leader. It can be emotional and create biases in the process that can be easily avoided by working with a search firm.

Q: What should we be mindful of during the search process? What are some strategies you use?

We make sure to protect the integrity of the current incumbent while also balancing the need to share critical information with candidates. We start with a short, anonymized version of the job posting and make sure that the client feels comfortable with the information shared. We communicate the confidentiality and nuances of the search to the candidate right away and instruct them to not click on any LinkedIn profiles or speak about the search.

When we speak about the incumbent, we do so with respect. Chances are, the incumbent isn’t a “bad leader” - they’re a good leader, in the wrong environment/stage/seniority/problem area for them. Sometimes, leadership teams want to retain the incumbent in another capacity. In these cases, we highlight the strengths of the incumbent to the leader while being transparent about their shortcomings for that particular role.

As with many executive searches, clients want in-person interviews in the later stages. This is especially the case in confidential searches, as the stakes feel higher the second time around. Since meeting at the company’s office usually isn’t an option, we help our clients find a neutral location that is comfortable for both parties, away from high-visibility public places.

Great candidates always ask critical, thoughtful questions. This is especially the case in confidential searches. We check in with candidates before and after each interview to ensure all their questions are answered and they feel confident in the level of transparency on their end.

Last, but definitely not least: Determining when and how the news will be shared with the incumbent leader. Sharing the update too early runs the risk of having the incumbent interfere, be overly disgruntled, or leave the company before you have a replacement. Sharing the news too late can make the search process more challenging due to heavy restrictions on information sharing, and could be seen as a blindside by the candidate. The right time is dependent on the specifics of the search itself, but a search partner can guide you through this decision as it relates to your situation.

Q: What are the benefits of working with an executive search partner on a confidential search?

By working with a search firm, you reduce the risk of information spreading internally. There’s a lower risk of personal relationships interfering with your judgment of what is acceptable information to share, and technology slip-ups (like public calendar events) won’t be a factor.

External partners also have broad networks that don’t stem from individuals at your company - there will certainly be overlap, but the chances of introducing a candidate into the process that is closely connected to the incumbent is greatly reduced.

Most importantly, executive search is what we do on a daily basis - and with that comes many confidential searches (in fact, most executive searches have some degree of confidentiality). A trusted search partner will have a strictly refined process to maintain confidentiality at all stages of the search and has extensive experience managing complicated situations that arise with executive hires. A valuable search partner will not only manage the full recruitment cycle, but will also serve as a trustworthy consultant and advisor to help you work through challenges that are unique to the executive recruitment process.

Let us know what you think: Did we miss a question? Do you have any other ideas? We’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Negin & Tyler & the Artemis Team


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