Confidential Search: Not Always Desirable, But Sometimes Necessary

Replacing an employee who still works at your company can be tricky. Often, companies feel that they are better off keeping an underperforming employee a while longer rather than having a vacancy because of their job function. For many companies, losing an employee can affect morale and can also really impact projects or timelines if a key employee leaves without being replaced. If your company needs to avoid these problems, then replacing the employee through a confidential recruitment process may be the course of action to take.

Navigating the replacement of an employee while the employee is still working is something every company will face at one point or another. So, how do you keep your recruitment process confidential?

Discretion is Everything

Since replacing an employee is sensitive, you really want to make sure that the word does not get out prematurely. Once the decision has been made by management to replace someone, keep it within a small circle on a confidential basis. If you employ an external recruiting firm to assist in finding potential candidates, they have been through this before and can provide guidance.

An Emoji Considering Something - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting Agency

When you write the job ad, make sure there is no identifying information. For example, you can say “One of North America’s top banks” but not “One of the leading suppliers of (niche product)”.  You do not want to have people guessing and speculating because they may well be able to quickly identify your company as the employer. If you are in a small community or city, and it will be obvious who your company is, then you must be even vaguer in your description.

Read More: Hire the Best, Forget the Rest

Focus on the Challenges

A Job Interview Between a Man and a Woman - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencySince you are being vague about the company, you might risk losing out on some top candidates as many job seekers want to know where they’re applying before they apply. Likely, someone is more willing to apply to a job ad with a company name in it than without, and candidates might feel less likely to talk to a recruiter with sparse information to offer.

This is why it’s important to really be strategic about the job description. Talk about how great the role is, and what the challenges will be. Sell the role, without giving it away. You want to be descriptive about what the person will do so they can feel excited about taking on the role wherever it may be.

Read More: The Ocean (That’s Where Great Companies Recruit From)

Have Confidential Application Methods

Next, you want to make sure applicants can apply to a place that is not connected to your company. This is why using external recruitment firms is helpful – candidates can apply to the recruitment firm and not email your head office. LinkedIn or Indeed is great for this since applicants can apply through the job website. You can set up a generic email to reply, or rely on the recruiters.The Recruitment Process - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting Agency

When you bring candidates in, stress that the process should be confidential. Explain to them why and request that they keep the information to themselves. Of course, you want to make sure the recruitment process is smooth and professional since anyone leaving with a bad taste in their mouth may be less inclined to respect the confidentiality!

If you’re advertising, also ensure all of this is done confidentially or anonymously. Don’t place an ad for a high-valued position with the company credit card, or through your advertising agency. Make sure there is one step in between your company and the ad placement so people don’t leak the information.

Prepare for the Risk of it Getting Out

A Woman Whispering Something in a Man's Ear - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencyAt the end of the day, people talk. Industries can feel big, but often times they are smaller than you think. It’s tough to keep such hiring on positions completely confidential, especially if you are trying to hire in an executive pool. Changing jobs is a big deal, and there’s no way you can trust all candidates to not tell a friend or colleague, or boss for that matter. As well, it’s hard to keep all internal partners quiet.

While it’s totally doable to keep a job search completely confidential, you should have a backup plan should the news get out. Make sure that you’re ready if the employee getting replaced finds out. Have a discussion ready, or the package ready. Make sure that you’re ready to disperse the workload A Typed Page on a Typewriter That Reads Breach of Confidentiality - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting Agencyshould the employee leave and not come back. What are the risks? Will the employee be disgruntled and cause a scene? Or ruin an important project? You have to be fully prepared for all possibilities since sometimes replacing an employee doesn’t happen on the best of terms.

Talk to HR, talk to an employment lawyer and your external recruiting firm, and really get your ducks in a row before moving onto such a process.

Be Professional

It’s tricky to replace someone while they’re still an employee, which is why it’s so important to make sure the entire procedure is done fairly and professionally. While it’s probably not possible to have the replaced person feel great about the situation, if your regular performance feedback routine has been followed, the employee being replaced shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens.


Kathbern Management is an executive search consultancy based in Toronto, helping companies find the executives and senior managers who not only have the experience and credentials to fulfil their responsibilities, but also have the emotional and “fit” requirements that will enable them to be successful in a particular environment. We simplify the process and, through our deep research, are able to bring more and better candidates forward than would ever be possible through a do-it-yourself passive advertising campaign.

Contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search.

Join our community to receive more monthly insights

Subscribe - Blog CTA
  • Hint: it comes down to good leadership (Reading time: 5 minutes)   In the early days of my career, I was hired as the general manager of a small ...
  • Don’t rely solely on resumes. (Reading time: 5 minutes)   The frustration of recruiters Imagine the frustration of recruiters when their carefu...
  • Do you know the story behind the development of the Oxford dictionary? It involves a dedicated editor, a mansion housing the criminally insane, and a ...