Episode 22 – Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive Search Assignment

Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive Search Assignment

Abby: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, executive search consultant Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help organizations in the Animal Health Industry and Veterinary Profession acquire top talent, while helping Animal Health Industry and Veterinary professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the difference between two types of searches: an exclusive search and a non-exclusive search. Hello, Stacy, and thank you for joining us.

Stacy: Hello, I’m glad to be here today.

Abby: Stacy, we’ve discussed in other podcasts about why organizations use search consultants or recruiters to fill their open positions. Before we tackle today’s topic, let’s recap those reasons. What are they?

Stacy: The first reason that companies use recruiters is talent. Companies want the best and most qualified candidates to work for them. But unless those candidates are unhappy with their current employer, they may not even be looking for a new job. These are the passive candidates that we’ve talked about.

Companies find it difficult to identify and successfully recruit these candidates. It’s not easy, and it can be labor-intensive, especially if you don’t have the expertise or experience. That’s why companies hire search and recruiting firms to find and recruit the best candidates away from their current employment.

Abby: Why else do companies use recruiters?

Stacy: The second reason is confidentiality. There are times when organizations don’t want it known that they’re trying to hire. This could be because the candidate or candidates are working for one or more of their competitors.

This can also be the case when a company is trying to expand into a new area or if they’re replacing an underperformer. They usually do not want to let that underperformer go until they’ve found a suitable replacement.

Abby: Not all search assignments are created equal, however. Depending upon the search assignment itself and the circumstances surrounding it, the situation can vary. And the two main types of searches that we’ll be discussing today are the exclusive search assignment and the non-exclusive search assignment. Let’s start with non-exclusive first. Stacy, what can you tell us about that type of search?

Stacy: Well, let’s start with the definition. A non-exclusive search assignment is just what it sounds like. It means that the search is NOT exclusive to just one recruiting agency. In other words, the company has enlisted the services of more than one agency in their attempts to fill the position.

Abby: So in essence, it’s like a race to fill the position?

Stacy: Yes, you could look at it that way. However, as we’ll discuss later, that’s not always the optimum approach for filling the position with the person best qualified for the job.

Abby: Are there instances in which a non-exclusive search is used more often?

Stacy: Yes, there are. A non-exclusive search is used more often for lower-level positions within an organization. These are typically NOT senior-level positions such as a President or Vice President, CEO, COO, or CIO which are more likely to be exclusive assignments. Many director-level positions are also exclusive searches. If the search is not for a position closely associated with a leadership role, then it could be a non-exclusive search assignment but that is not always the case. Sometimes lower level positions are exclusive assignments too. The more critical the role the more likely it is going to be an exclusive search.

Abby: So if that’s the case, does that mean the higher or more important the position is, the more likely that a company will be to issue an exclusive search assignment to a recruiting agency?

Stacy: That’s correct. Keep in mind that the more important the position, the more there is confidentiality tied to the search. When an organization works with just one recruiting agency to fill the position, the search is, by its very nature, more confidential. That’s because there are less people who know about it. A search that is non-exclusive has less confidentiality tied to it. That’s because more people know about it.

Abby: Are there other instances in which an exclusive search assignment is given?

Stacy: Yes, there are. It sometimes depends on the relationship that the organization has with the recruiting agency or agencies. For example, if an agency has proven itself to deliver the types of candidates that a company likes to hire, that organization is more likely to use that agency and that agency alone. That’s because the hiring official knows that if they work exclusively with that search firm, the firm will likely produce the results that the hiring official wants.

There are also situations where a company starts out with a non-exclusive search and eventually switches to an exclusive search.

Abby: Really? In which situations are those?

Stacy: These are situations where the company is not able to fill the position by enlisting the services of multiple recruiting agencies at once. Keep in mind that the longer a position remains open, the more it costs an organization. An open position means lost productivity, which means less revenue and that means less profitability.

So when a position remains open for an extended period of time, a company is more likely to enlist the services of a single agency. During the second half of this podcast, I’ll explain why this is ultimately the preferred strategy for filling a position with the best candidate.

Abby: Stacy, that’s a perfect transition, because we’re at the midway point of our podcast. Now that we’ve presented these two types of searches and defined them, we’re going to discuss which approach is the best one and why, is that right?

Stacy: That’s right. And the first thing I want to discuss is how some things appear to make sense in theory, but don’t pan out the right way in reality. And one of those things is the non-exclusive approach to filling search assignments.

Abby: Is that because it would appear to make sense that if there are more recruiting agencies working on a particular search, the quicker that position should be filled? The more the merrier if you will.

Stacy: Yes, that’s correct. And if you asked people which approach should generate the best results, they’d probably say the non-exclusive approach. That’s because you would think that with all of those recruiting agencies competing against one another, that competition would breed better results. But that’s not really the case.

Abby: Can you elaborate on that?

Stacy: Absolutely. In fact, there are three reasons why an organization should work with just one recruiting agency on a search assignment. The first reason has to do with the quality of the candidates that are presented.

The reason I say that is because everything is based on motivation. What I mean is that people do what they are motivated to do. Now, if you have multiple recruiting agencies working on the same search, what are you motivating them to do? The answer is that you’re motivating them to produce candidates as quickly as possible. They know they’re competing against other firms.

This is a problem because you’re NOT motivating them to produce the very best candidates as quickly as possible. There’s a big difference there. Finding and identifying the very best candidates takes time. It may take a week or longer, not just a day or two. But if the firms know that they’re competing against one another, they’re probably not going to take the time to dig for the best candidates. They’re going to be motivated to present who they have at the moment.

On the other hand, if it’s an exclusive search, then you’re motivating that one firm to present the highest quality candidates, period. That’s because they don’t have to worry about competing against other firms. And of course, they want to do it as quickly as they can because they want to fill the position and meet their client’s need.

Abby: I have to say, when viewed like that, it does make sense. It’s interesting that what appears to be the right course of action can sometimes backfire.

Stacy: It does happen, and when you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you see the consequences of situations like these.

Abby: What’s the second reason why an organization should work with just one recruiting agency on an exclusive search?

Stacy: The second reason is that there is less of a chance of miscommunication.

When you’re working with multiple recruiting firms on a search, you must keep track of everything and everybody. That’s because Recruiting Firm A only cares about Recruiting Firm A and Recruiting Firm B only cares about Recruiting Firm B.

In that situation, it’s up to the employer or the hiring manager to make sure that they dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s. They have to keep track of which firms have which versions of the job order and which firms have which candidates in play, and who’s interviewing where and when.

When you work on an exclusive search assignment with one recruiting firm, you don’t have any of these problems. There’s just one point of contact for all candidates presented and for all interviews scheduled and completed. As a result, there’s less chance of miscommunication.

Abby: And better communication also increases the chances of a successful search. Stacy, what’s the third reason why an organization should work with just one recruiting firm on an exclusive search?

Stacy: The third reason is a better candidate experience. As we’ve mentioned several times on this podcast, the candidate experience is more important than it’s ever been for companies. If an organization wants to hire top talent, then it must provide a great experience for candidates.

As an example, let’s say there are three candidates on a company’s hiring short list. All three are working with a different recruiting firm. What are the chances that all three candidates have heard exactly the same things about both the position and the organization? Not very good.

But when a company works exclusively with one recruiting firm, then every candidate that’s presented and that goes through the process will receive the same experience. That helps a company’s employer brand and it enhances the candidate experience. These days, companies want ALL candidates to have a great experience, whether they get hired or not.

Abby: During your time in the recruiting profession, you’ve worked on thousands of searches. Some have been non-exclusive and some have been exclusive. Which would you say are typically more successful?

Stacy: I would say that based on my experience, an exclusive search assignment yields the best results in the shortest amount of time and it does so more consistently. While there’s a time and place for a non-exclusive search, they’re not the preferred approach for high-level, confidential searches.

Also, another thing I’d like to mention is this. If candidates are hearing from multiple recruiters about the same position, they might think the employer is desperate or that there is something wrong with the position. Also, there can be mixed messages. For example I saw a situation where two recruiting firms were calling candidates about the same Director of Regulatory Affairs role and one recruiting firm was telling candidates it was a Director role and another recruiting firm was telling candidates it was a Manager role. There was so much mis-communication coming from the two different firms that the candidates thought the employer was unorganized.

In my experience it is best to work with one firm and one firm only on a search to fill each individual position.

Abby: Stacy, thanks so much for all of this great information today.

Stacy: Thank you, Abby. I look forward to our next podcast!