IT OFTEN happens when you least expect it. Out of the blue, you receive a call from an executive search firm, wanting to know if you are interested in a position they are trying to fill for a client.

The opportunity seems promising, but you do not know what to expect. What does the process entail? How long will it take? Why have they called? Most importantly, how do you respond? As a potential candidate, what can you ask?

Search consultants endeavour to provide qualified candidates for clients who wish to fill senior-level positions.

Although contractual obligations exist only between the search firm and client, search consultants also build professional and ethical relationships with candidates, whom they may remain in contact with over a period of years.

It is therefore wise to build lasting relationships with reputable search consultants who are familiar not only with the local environment but also regional and global opportunities.

The most important elements are the integrity and reputation of the consultancy and its consultants.

If you choose to pursue the opportunity, ensure the ethics they practise in their client and customer relationships are characterised by honesty, objectivity, accuracy and respect for confidentiality.

Strict adherence to this code is a must and they should also abide by all data privacy laws applicable within their respective country.

The most successful searches involve a three-way partnership, whereby the candidate, the search firm and the client fully understand their rights, duties and obligations to each other during the search process.

Confidentiality

When you become a candidate, you put yourself at a certain amount of risk with your current employer.

For that reason, you are entitled to confidentiality from the search firm and the client organisation. To safeguard your confidentiality, the search consultant should:

* obtain your authorisation before submitting your details to the client, after a meeting to discuss your candidacy;

* contact you directly rather than through your assistant or anyone else in your current company;

* not contact references provided by you without your permission;

* not discuss your potential candidacy with anyone outside the search firm, and ensure that all employees of the firm abide by the same rules; and

* caution the client to also safeguard your confidentiality.

It is important to remember that you do not become a candidate until the consultant has conducted an initial evaluation of your suitability for the position and you have expressed an interest in it.

Even if the position you are being contacted for is not right for you at the present time, you may still benefit from conversations with search consultants by being kept up-to-date on future opportunities that match your skills and experience.

Candidates who are not selected for one search may be selected for another.