The peculiar perils of parallel processing

By: J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FHFMA, FAAHC, CMPE
Chairman and CEO | Atlanta Office 
Reach him at +1 770 396 3939 or ltyler [at] tylerandco [dot] com. 

The inspiration for this piece came from a candidate interview incident. At the end of our interview, I made a comment that if the opportunity at hand didn’t work out, then we would look at the candidate for other searches we were conducting. I explained that it was our policy to allow candidates to participate in only one assignment at a time. The candidate then commented that while that might be our policy, it was not the policy of some of the other search firms with which she was dealing.

Parallel processing is defined as the simultaneous introduction of a candidate to multiple clients. That is, it is the practice of allowing the candidate to go through more than one search process at the same time. The reason this is absolutely inappropriate in most circumstances is that a retained firm’s first loyalty and responsibility are to the client organization, not to the candidate. Allowing a candidate to proceed on more than one search with the same firm lessens that responsibility and loyalty and may effectively transfer it from the client to the candidate. At best, it will result in divided loyalties among clients – an occurrence that should be avoided at all costs.

It is certainly appropriate for candidates to pursue several searches simultaneously if those searches are with different firms. Obviously, the candidate has to look out for his/her best interests. I am not the only one who feels passionately about the issue of parallel processing. The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), of which Tyler & Company is a member, has a professional practice guideline stating that firms could parallel process only in exceptional circumstances as long as all parties involved agree. The standard was evidently changed years ago at the behest of the mammoth firms who had encountered problems in conducting searches for high-tech companies where talent was in short supply. The purists were appalled that the AESC would even consider making a change in its long-standing standard. The assumption is that once the camel’s nose is under the tent, the rest of the body is sure to follow. Of course, these parallel processing rules do not apply to recruiting firms that work on a contingency basis, since the firm/client/candidate relationship is quite different.

I thought that the change was a good one. At Tyler & Company, we have a long-standing policy against parallel processing, but every couple of years circumstances arise where a candidate is processed for two clients simultaneously.

In the few cases where this has occurred, it was because a client proposed a candidate known to him/her who was already being processed on another search for another client. We have always disclosed what was happening so that both clients are informed. At other times, we have had conflicts when a client puts a search “on hold” and then reactivates it months later resurrecting candidates who may have gone on to other searches. Our contract says that if a client hasn’t acted on a candidate in three weeks, the candidate is available for other assignments. We do this as a courtesy to the candidates since most searches put on “on hold” are not reactivated.

Clients NEVER ask about our policy on parallel processing. They should. They should be assured that their search firm is representing them to the best of its ability and not sharing their candidates with others. This is especially important since the really good candidates typically have multiple options. Clients can determine whether their search firm is parallel processing by asking candidates they interview whether the search firm is presenting them to any other organizations. It is one thing to lose a great candidate to another opportunity, but losing the candidate because your own search firm had divided loyalties is especially galling.