Understanding “Client Blockage” in Executive Search

Otherwise known as the “off-limits” rule, client blockage can severely restrict the ability of a retained search firm to recruit top talent.  The rule is quite simple … it means that a retained recruitment firm is not going to approach anyone from a “client firm” for any other opportunity.   Thus, the larger the retained search firm the greater the number of client’s and a larger amount of client blockage.  This is where a smaller executive search firms, who do not have thousands of clients, can have a major, significant, advantage.

In addition, the off-limits rule also impacts “specialist” search firms.  Consider a firm that specializes in pharmacists, as an example.  Clearly a recruitment firm that works for a major drug store client is not going to be able to recruit candidates from that chain.

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

The industry standard time restriction for “off-limits” is two years.  This means that if 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.

Quite often a large company will select specific search firms as a defensive move.  Consider a large architectural firm that kept losing talent through one specific recruiter.  If they were to strategically engage that recruiter to work for them then they could stop the drain.  (This is a true story … the recruiter declined to work for them as it would cut off his hunting ground).  Or, the Fortune 500 firm that engages with several of the big five headhunting firms for different engagements thus protecting themselves with several off-limits agreements.

As a small, trusted boutique, DSML Executive Search rarely encounters “client blockage”.  This has proven to be critical in certain industries where the field of likely candidates was limited to the major competition.   One should always ask, as a client, if the recruitment firm represents other firms in the same industry.  It’s important not to be blocked from approaching the most qualified candidates.

Another advantage of using a boutique executive search firm are the quicker turnaround times, a greater attention to service, access to the entire recruitment team (rather than simply a partner), and creative pricing models.  They also provide a better candidate experience which is a reflection on the company that engaged them.

If you are ready to hire a C-Level position and want to avoid client blockages, contact us today.

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