Close this search box.
Close this search box.

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…

4 Responses

  1. Well said John. As a person in an active search for my next exciting opportunity I can tell you that the retained executive search folks with whom I have worked have been genuinely professional with one exception-setting proper *expectations* for communicating, both proactively with the candidate and in response to requests from the candidate. (SSG has been outstanding in this area, by the way. The best I have seen.). Folks in my situation obviously have more-urgent timelines and are eager to move the ball down the field. A clear understanding of how the retained search professional will take and use what s/he has learned about that candidate, the pace of decision-making at the firm being represented and a genuine effort to at a minimum acknowledge a follow up to the search professional from a candidate will really set that search professional apart. If it takes a week to get back to someone, let the candidate know that, and be sure it takes no longer than a week. Generally my experience has been that folks in the field over promise and under-deliver when setting proper expectations with recruits.

    1. Kevin,

      Thanks for the feedback. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the need to set expectations. Clients tend to move at their own pace and it’s invariably slower than our candidates would like. However, if we as consultants can manage expectations and hold to agreed upon commitments on both sides, I believe the process can be a positive one.

      Best regards,


  2. Agree. As a candidate, I’m interviewing the end-company as much as their evaluating me. My first impression of a company is often through the recruiter. A retained-recruiter’s actions reflect heavily on their end-client.

    If a recruiter’s trying to force me into a bad fit, the statement is that the company doesn’t care how they get their employees. Effectively the recruiter is saying the client-company doesn’t care about their employees in general.

    In any contact with a recruitment-agency, I’m also evaluating the agency. Will I want to build a relationship and work with them in the future?

    So the recruiter’s first lead went no where – do I allow them to submit me to a second opening? Depends entirely on how comfortable I felt with them and their process the first time. Those I build a positive relationship with will be the first one’s I call NEXT time I need a job. And when I’m responsible for hiring someone – who do you think I will call first?

    As a job candidate, if you place me, then you get paid. I’ve got two new recruiters contacting me every day – do you believe I’m a commodity? Your competing for my business no less than I’m competing to get hired.

    Most recruiter’s I’ve worked with have been professional. Except most are trying to pigeon-hole me into the one opportunity on their desk for a quick closing. Make the candidate feel like a valued part of the equation. Build a relationship. I want to believe you are working for me to find the best possible job-fit, for the benefit of all three parties!

  3. Steven,

    Those are some great points. I think sometimes recruiters for all levels of roles forget what you bring up in your last paragraph. It’s a three party system, not just a negotiation between employer and recruiter.

    Best regards,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don’t Be A Stranger…

Just write down some details and our customer success heroes will get back to you in a jiffy!

Contact Info