Understanding Executive Search: The Off Limits Rule

“What do you mean, I’m off limits?” an executive once said to me.  Here’s an understanding of this recruitment industry rule.  The customer is the one who is “footing the bill” and, in the case above, the executive, who was startled by my response to his call, was an employee of one of our clients.  Therefore he was “off limits” to us as a candidate.

So often people tend to think of a “headhunter” as someone who “peddles people” but forget that a retained recruitment firm has been engaged by a company to provide “professional services”, much like a lawyer or accountant, for the betterment of the organization.

The “off limits” rule is quite simple … it means that, as a “Retained Recruiter”, I’m not going to do anything that would jeopardize my relationship with my customer.   Unlike a contingent recruiter, who is owed nothing unless a final purchase is made, my customer has bought our services up front and they trust me to always act in the best interests of their organization.

The industry standard for “Off Limits” is two years.  This means that as long as a retained recruitment firm is working for a customer the recruitment firm will not attempt to lure any employee away from that customer for a period of two years from the completion date of the latest assignment.  Of course, if a second, (or more), assignment is received during that two years then the “off limits” boundary is extended as appropriate.

An interesting thing to consider here is that the large retained recruitment firms, those who work for several thousand different organizations, consequently have HUGE off limit numbers.  (Recruitment firms are ranked in either the number of offices or consultants, or their size in revenue.  Quite often the revenue is not public information so the former method of indicating size is usually used).

When engaging a retained search firm, it’s easy to assume that, because of their size, they will have a greater reach in terms of uncovering talent.  In reality, however, the opposite may be true in that the larger the size the more restricted they actually are in securing the right talent for your organization.

At DSML Executive Search, a smaller trusted firm who does not have thousands upon thousands of clients, we do not go by the industry standard “two year off limits rule”.  We commit to not approaching any of your employees for any other assignment or company for as long as you are in business.



DSML is a member of the CFR Global Executive Search Network, serving customers in offices worldwide.