Embargoes and How They Can Make Executive Search Firms Less Effective

The concept of an embargo has its roots in maritime shipping, but it has a modern relevance to the world of recruitment, particularly executive search. When engaging an executive search provider, it's important to understand whether any embargoes are in place, and their scope.

Here’s how an embargo works in executive recruitment:

In retaining an executive search firm in a longer term relationship, one that extends beyond the activity of a single search, many clients request, and are granted, an embargo: that the executive search firm will not approach that client’s employees about roles with the search firm’s other clients.

At first, this sounds sensible. No employer wants its employees to be the subject of poaching. Retaining employees is far more cost-effective than losing them and having to replace them.

However, taken further – and not just to the extreme case – embargoes begin to erode the fundamental capabilities of that firm to do good work for additional clients.

If the employees of even just a few important, successful companies are “off limits” to future clients because the search firm has agreed to an embargo, searches for new clients can’t possibly be as productive.

This begins to erode the original reason the new client wants to work with that firm in the first place, because of its track record in their space. Companies choose executive search providers – firms or consultants within a firm – because of their understanding of, and deep contacts in, a particular industry. Executive search providers acquire those contacts and understanding by doing good work for numerous companies within that industry. Embargoes limit the pool of talent the search firm can access for future roles.

How to avoid your search being hindered by embargoes? Ask your executive recruitment provider how they’ll go about sourcing candidates for you.  If their method is largely search-driven – if they talk about developing lists of target companies and target roles within those companies, and approaching the people about your role – ask what embargoes they operate under, and what companies’ employees they are prohibited from approaching.  Better still, work with an executive recruitment provider which marries search with other candidate acquisition techniques, ones that are not vulnerable to an embargo.



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