How can a passive candidate ethically apply for new positions?
May 29, 2008 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Let's say you are a mission-critical player for your company, but for a number of reasons, it's time to move on... and of course, you don't intend to broadcast your decision to management while you're hunting. How would you pursue new opportunities while treating your current employer ethically?

This is the hypothetical: You've been along since the founding of the business, and your role makes you a "key man" and a senior person. If it were to become publicly known that you were job hunting, there would be internal and external repercussions. Employee morale would take a hit... revenues would possibly be affected... office politics would reach fever pitch... no good could come of anyone knowing what was up, till there were actual transition decisions to be made.

You're thinking of going to another company... one that isn't directly competitive with your employer, but is in a similar sector and could benefit from your talents and experience. There are a handful of companies that seem like likely targets in this area; you've had exposure to them off and on over the years, and feel like they might be inclined to pick you up if the circumstances are right.

There wouldn't necessarily already be a position created and defined and listed on SimplyJobs for you (if so, you could just apply for it and ask the hiring manager for discretion). It seems more like one of these target companies would have to create a role for you. And maybe they wouldn't want to... but maybe they would.

How would you approach one of these companies? Who in particular would you reach out to: the HR side, or the manager who would likely own the business decision to bring you on? How would you make discreet or anonymous contact? A headhunter or attorney? An agent? (kidding) (mostly)

(The problem is that, from what I know of headhunters, they work for the employers, not the candidate. So if I'm understanding correctly, a headhunter would see no percentage in representing someone this way.)

Or, on the flip side: if you were the target employer, and a director at another org that had skills you were happy to add to your stable came onto the market, how would you expect him to reach out to you? Would an anonymous email from "hiremeI'" work for you because you understand the sensitive nature of the exchange... or put you off because it seems amateur?

Input from HR professionals totally welcomed, as is experience from other company-jumpers. Thanks in advance!
posted by cockwaffle to Work & Money (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Anonymous contact certainly will not work. You need to either (1) find a good intermediary, someone who knows you well, and knows the company you want to work for well, and can make an introduction with agreed-upon discretion, or (2) if you know someone there, or can reasonably make a peer-to-peer contact, just make an approach, starting right off with "I am interested in making a major career change and am interested in working for you, but I would like to have you treat this inquiry with extreme discretion at this point. If it's not going to lead anywhere, obviously I would like you to maintain that confidentiality after the fact. If this condition is agreeable to you, I would like to forward you my resume and ask for an opportunity to discuss employment with your firm."
posted by beagle at 9:01 AM on May 29, 2008

Positions such as you describe are filled through personal contacts and headhunters. Since this hypothetical person does not seem to have personal contact with upper management at these target companies they are probably best off with a headhunter. Yes, headhunters are paid by the employer, but if they can place the person in one of these companies they will profit handsomely so they are motivated to place someone. If this hypothetical person were that important, headhunters have probably already been calling. This hypothetical person has been keeping their names and numbers on file, right? They should call up the one or ones who seemed most professional and capable.
posted by caddis at 9:09 AM on May 29, 2008

Not all headhunters work for employers. When I landed my current job, it was working with a Recruiter who I knew. SHe worked with industry people to scout out unadvertsied positions in my field and match those up with my qualifications. The job I originally was offered at my present employer wasn't ever an open position, but rather one they created for me at the time.

I think it will pay to talk to some recruiters directly, and see how they operate.
posted by genefinder at 9:10 AM on May 29, 2008

Oh, and for clarification, the recruiter was paid by the employer, just wasn't actively working for them per se.
posted by genefinder at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2008

Response by poster: "If this hypothetical person were that important, headhunters have probably already been calling."

Hypothetically, yes. But those were always from recruiting agencies seeking to fill existing openings on behalf of hiring clients. That those people could serve as liaison in the other direction never occurred to the candidate, I suspect.

"Since this hypothetical person does not seem to have personal contact with upper management at these target companies they are probably best off with a headhunter."

There are some current acquaintance relationships. But let's say one made contact, even with as vague a statement as beagle suggested... how do you guarantee that the target company honors your request for discretion? The concern is that allowing for even a dropped "So, I heard on the grapevine that John Smith is thinking of making a change, eh?" at an industry reception would be a serious CLM. Damage control and doing right by the current employer is of utmost worry.

Already some great advice here, and much appreciated.
posted by cockwaffle at 9:23 AM on May 29, 2008

I've worked, briefly, as a headhunter (it was a disaster). Headhunters don't work for employers any more than carnival barkers work for the country bumpkins coming to see the sideshow. You, as the prospective hire, are like the guy who bites heads off chickens.

Headhunters like having a thick pile of resumes so they can shop people around to companies, but they don't necessarily have an interest in placing you in a job that's well-suited to you, and may have an interest in placing you in one that's ill-suited: if you don't like it, you're more likely to want to quit, call them up, and have them place you somewhere else (so they get another commission).

The best way to approach these nebulous new employers would be informally. If there are fundraising galas, social events, that sort of thing, where you are likely to run into these honchos and can talk shop with them, that'd be perfect. Any other situation where you can accidentally on purpose run into them, assuming you actually know them.
posted by adamrice at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2008

how do you guarantee that the target company honors your request for discretion?

You can't, obviously. But, if you're approaching someone who has been around the block, ie., has made a lot of important hires, they will understand your concern and will keep it confidential. Even if that cocktail party remark were made, they would not follow it up with, "I've got his resume on my desk." If anything gets back to your employer, you'll have to have a ready answer.

But there is a difference between "damage control" and "doing right by your present employer." You owe your present employer hard work and reasonable notice. If you are a truly key employee, you ought to groom a replacement they can slide right into your spot, so that your departure doesn't leave them in the luch -- but you don't OWE them that; somebody else ought to be making sure that's done (you could be run over by the proverbial truck any day, after all).
posted by beagle at 10:48 AM on May 29, 2008

I am a headhunter.

Have you ever worked with one? Do you know any that you trust?

Occasionally if we have a stellar candidate, we will (with that candidate's permission) "market" them, by calling prospective companies that might benefit from having such a person. This isn't in response to specific job openings.

So, if you engaged a recruiter that you trusted, you could explain to them that you have good reason to think that companies A, B, and C might be interested in you and have them make a discreet exploratory pass on your behalf.

If I were that recruiter the call might go something like "[contact], I've been approached by one of the top guys at one of the [industry] companies in your area. He's accomplished X, Y and Z. He's interested in what you guys are doing -- do you think someone like him could be valuable to your group?"
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2008

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