What does responsibility mean in the context of a search?

Responsibility as a theme

Responsibility has become an important theme in discussions on leadership and working life, for a good reason. As search professionals, we get to approach responsibility from many different perspectives. Some of our searches are directly linked to responsibility (CSR, Sustainability, Compliance), and often, a responsible way of working is one of the evaluation criteria for other executive candidates. On the other hand, we have also challenged ourselves and our own processes from the point of view of responsibility. This blog post focuses on the latter perspective – what responsibility means in the context of a search.

Values guide responsibility

Responsibility is always linked to values. The values everyone abides by in recruitment today include non-discrimination, equal opportunities and diversity. On the other hand, each company has its own values that the candidates are expected to meet. The discussions also highlight the sense of meaning derived from work. Working in a responsible company usually feels meaningful. To put it the other way around, employers with a responsible image feel appealing to candidates. It is also common to ask questions about the candidate’s values at the interview.

A search is founded on reciprocal responsibility between three parties

In addition to value perspectives, a search is governed by the good practices, ethical codes of conduct, and regulations of our industry and way of operation. In recent years, the EU GDPR has had a major impact on our practices. It is important for both search service providers and clients to be aware of the norms and regulations that apply to the services and commit to following them. Professional search consultants also know how to describe and explain the regulations to their clients. The third important party is the candidates and the eventual selected candidate. This “triangle” serves as an excellent framework for examining the responsibility for a search. The reciprocal responsible ways of action within this framework lay the foundation for a successful outcome that satisfies all parties: the selected candidate finds a position that meets expectations and promises and that they can commit to, the company receives a motivated and committed new employee and, in the ideal situation, the candidates who were not selected have a rewarding and fair experience of the process.

Responsibility starts with an open dialogue between the client and the consultant

The search process is typically motivated by the client’s need. At the beginning, it is important that the client has a sufficiently accurate idea of the role, its challenges and the expertise requirements. A professional consultant knows how to help in specifying these. In addition, it helps if the company has a somewhat realistic notion of its own pull factors or, for example, the challenges related to employer image. A responsible search consultant takes time to familiarize themselves with the client’s situation and gives an honest assessment of the recruitment challenges and/or opportunities of the organization, even if it might lead to losing the deal. The client should also be open about possible previous challenges related to the position so that the consultant can take them into account and tackle them in the future. Sharing information about future changes openly is also wise. The search assignment is always strictly confidential, and each professional consultant has adequate NDA templates. The client should also inform the entire company of the recruitment, to avoid unpleasant surprises within the organization during the process.

Responsibility affects the candidates in many ways during the process

As the process continues, the third party in the triangle, meaning the candidates, step in. A responsible consultant treats all candidates with respect, starting from the first point of contact, and keeps them informed of the confidentiality that binds all parties. Today, many responsible consultants try to create a diverse candidate pool through affirmative action. Some clients also ask for this, but even if diversity is not explicitly requested, the consultant can always encourage the client to consider different types of candidates with an open mind. Non-discrimination is the minimum standard in this respect.

As the candidates join the process, a responsible candidate keeps all candidates informed of the process and its stages. The consultant is also responsible for providing the candidates with truthful information about the position and for thinking about how the position would affect the candidate’s career and life from the candidate’s perspective. In the ideal case, a responsible consultant can act as a mentor who supports the candidates throughout the process. Candidates should also feel like participating in the process has been worthwhile. Confidential handling of candidate information is one of the cornerstones of responsibility. Any candidate information that the consultant sends to the client must have been provided and approved by the candidate for this specific purpose.

Candidates have their own responsibilities in the search process

So, what can we expect from responsible candidates? At least confidentiality for their part, commitment to the process after deciding to join it, and providing truthful, honest information about themselves and their careers. Responsible candidates consider questions related to values and culture from their own point of view of and from that of the recruiting company. Staying within the framework one has set for oneself is also part of responsibility. For example, not increasing the salary request along the way or using the process as a tool to strengthen one’s current position. From the candidate’s point of view, confidentiality also means not disclosing to others that they have participated in the process or who they have met during the process even afterwards, especially if the search was a so-called quiet search, as is often the case with executive searches.

Responsibility in the final stages lays the foundation for a successful employment relationship

Towards the end of the process, the consultant is responsible, inter alia, for informing the unselected candidates in a timely manner and holding feedback discussions with them. A responsible client, on the other hand, finalizes the selection quickly, for example, by concluding the employment contract and launching the initial steps of the employment. A responsible candidate makes the decision without delay and does not slow down the process unnecessarily. At the end of the day, signing the employment contract is just the beginning of the more important journey – a successful, long-term employment relationship. Responsible search consultants care about this part of the process as well, continuing to check up on the selected person and the client over the long term.

Search is covered by global quality standards

Finally, we can conclude that the aforementioned aspects of a responsible search are very close to the globally recognized quality factors of a search and the industry regulation. Compliance with these can be ensured by choosing a consultant who is a member of an industry association (for example, the Association of Executive Search Consultants AESC) that endorses certain quality standards. Honesty and openness, transparency, and confidentiality will always remain as the prerequisites for a successful search. We are working with people in an area of life that is extremely important to them, which means our business must be based on trust in order to be sustainable. In my opinion, responsibility considerations allow us to better link our work to value creation in a developing and changing society and to serve all parties with better results.

Stay tuned!