Can You Trust the Manager to Keep Quiet?

Confidentiality is paramount to your search process.  While some Advisors view their search as a warning shot across the bow and don’t care if their managers find out, others fear violating terms of their contract and being terminated on the spot.  Our position follows the latter as warning shots only insight anger and distrust.  For example, Goldman Sachs has long held that if an Advisor is suspected of speaking with the competition, it is grounds for termination.  Firms that appear to take your looking around in stride may harbor distrust, and hold it against you if you end up staying.

Basic Rules of Confidentiality
Management at all the firms know that Advisors receive calls from recruiters and often meet with managers at competing firms.  When meeting with a competing firm, always obtain a verbal commitment that they will not mention your name to anyone at their firm without your consent.  You want to be able to control how and when your name is used and with whom they are talking to about you.  Many managers will casually mention your name to an Advisor who was previously at your firm; this is unprofessional and unacceptable, so have the conversation.

Designate one team member to coordinate and attend the bulk of the meetings.  Any conversations with a firm pose some confidentiality risk, so this minimizes it to a reasonable degree.  Clearly, the Advisors should meet all the senior managers and the heads of the product desks that are pertinent to their portion of your business, but trouping the entire team to every meeting will raise questions at your current firm.

Limit the insiders and keep the information sharing to as few as possible and only on a “need-to-know basis.”  Analysts, some junior partners, and assistants do not need to know anything until the time is right to tell them.  Common sense dictates that the chances of a secret getting out are increased exponentially (not linearly) when another person is in the know.

Common Sense Rules
There are several rules of thumb to help prevent any confidentiality breaks:

  • Communicate only on your mobile or home phone.
  • Never have anything sent to your office.
  • Do not use your business email to communicate to other managers or firms.
  • Communicate as much as possible after office hours or outside of the office.
  • Work through an intermediary or agent so as to avoid calls from managers all together. Schedule meetings only where and when you feel comfortable.
  • Do not bring your entire team to initial meetings.
  • Tell your team only at the end of the due diligence process.
  • Remember “loose lips sink ships”

If There is a Breach of Confidentiality Deny, Deny, Deny
You can take all the appropriate steps to ensure confidentiality, but leaks regularly occur.  You may never know how it ever got out, but once it does, you need to put out that fire.

If your branch manager or senior management approaches you and asks you if you have been looking you must deny it.  If you were seen at a restaurant with another manager, be ready with reasons or things in common to explain your time together: community or charitable organizations; club membership or the like.  If you are “suspected” because you are on your cell phone at the office, be ready with a viable excuse.  In any case, do not let it happen again.

Some restaurants have private rooms.  Request them.  Some firms have private dining rooms.  It may be safer to dine there than out in public.

Let the hiring manager know you were brought into your manager’s office and you are deploying damage control.  Depending on where you are in the process that may mean having meetings on Saturday mornings, taking more calls in the evenings, at home, or slowing down the process a bit.

If you are in a position where you are in final deal negotiations and you are concerned that you will be terminated, tell your hiring manager.  The pace of deal negotiations can increase and you may be able to have a new home immediately if you are terminated.

If one of your team members comes to you and asks, again, deny it.  They either want to know because they do, or do not, want to follow you.  You will know the dynamic of the team and you will know what to say to whom to put that team member at ease.

Be prepared for confidentiality breaches, especially if you are part of a large team and/or speaking with several firms.  Do not panic if you are approached.  And forget the Honest Abe guilt feelings – no one has the right to know your career plans until you are ready to discuss them.