I am frequently asked by candidates if I can help them to either find a position or be placed into one. This question regularly comes from a wide variety of private and public sector job seekers at many different levels in their careers. Often someone has told the candidate that the best jobs are all “placed” by search firms.

The suggestion that the really good jobs never appear in the public domain and can only found by “knowing someone” is a dated outlook. It is not reflective of the current approach taken by an increasingly large number of organizations who seek security executives. The vast majority of mid- to upper-level, non-cyber-focused security executive roles are still handled internally by HR departments.

When you are contacted by a search firm, legally the recruitment company represents the hiring company with which they are under contract, not the candidates who are seeking a position. Types of contracts between search firms and employers can be either retained, whereby an organization has engaged the search firm and paid a fee in advance in order to conduct the search, or contingent, where the recruitment company is similarly under contract but will receive payment for the work if they present a successful candidate.

A search firm will not recruit for a position unless they have been contracted to do so. Unethical practices by recruitment companies can include advertising for an opening for which they’ve not been hired, advertising in order to obtain candidate data for other purposes, and cold calling or shopping candidates to prospective clients.

My clients have run into recruiters who blindly send resumes with the caveat that should the receiver hire one of these individuals the recruiter “owns,” the client now owes them a fee. These tactics often put job seekers at a disadvantage, tying their reputation or brand to that of the recruiter and leaving their resume or CV in a desk drawer until the fictional expiry date of their ownership.

There are several things you should consider when you are contacted by a search firm or if you choose to apply for a recruitment being managed by one:

  1. Learn the about the reputation and ethical practices of both the search firm and the recruiters who work there.

  2. A very small number of firms specialize in corporate security recruitment. Determine the area(s) the firm actually does work in before sharing your information.

  3. Validate what their internal data handling procedures are and ask how they maintain the confidentiality of your information.

  4. Be honest about your credentials and answer all questions in a straight-forward manner. An ethical search firm will never submit a resume to their client that they know to be inaccurate.

  5. Keep your information current and factual. Omitting history easily verifiable through today’s very public, social media world makes you an unpresentable candidate and damages your personal brand.

  6. If you are contacted by a search firm regarding a position in which you have no interest, do not suggest the recruitment company pay you a “finder’s fee” for referring others.

  7. Should you reach the point in the recruitment cycle when the recruiter shares their client name with you, do not proceed to directly contact the employer. Attempting to bypass the contract in place between the search firm and their client is viewed as unethical behavior by both of those engaged parties and will likely render you ineligible for any consideration going forward.

A job search can be a long, frustrating process. Seek out ethical recruitment companies and understand their relationship to their clients so you can expedite the process. Your main obligation as a candidate is to be honest and straightforward in order to present yourself as the best, most place-able candidate for a position. Preserving your reputation and your brand is a key element in moving your career forward.