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Search Firms Used For Competitive Intelligence And Corporate Espionage

I have had quite a few conversations in 2011 with my search firm friends (all independent of each other) about how clients who in the process of a legitimate search (as in the search already started) have asked to see candidates from certain companies or firms.

While this is a common thing for hiring managers to want, people from a certain company, these conversations and perceived incidents seemed more of a “fishing expedition” to learn more about their competition.

A colleague in Silicon Valley was asked to add to the interview pool 2-3 candidates from a particular company. It was “out of place” to ask about it at that time.

During the post interview phone call my colleague learned that the questions these particular candidates were asked were much different than the rest of the pool.

One particular candidate shared some of the code he was working on with the CIO. For the candidate... he was sharing work samples. For the interviewing company... they were getting competitive intelligence.

Infrequently over the years there have been times when candidates tell me what questions they were asked and my ears perk up and I know the client was fishing for some info.

How often does this happen... there is no way to know but I am sure it is more common than we think.

Check this out...

Today in the Wall Street Journal there is this article China Hackers Hit U.S. Chamber

CNBC picked it up (see the video below) and Eamon Javers (the link is to his blog about corporate espionage) mentions at the 1:46 minute mark the article he wrote in March of 2011 Secrets and Lies: The Rise of Corporate Espionage in a Global Economy in which he says it is believed the Chinese set up a fake executive search firm in Tokyo that sent email (Spam) to American executives.

The goal was to “interview” the executives but really it was about getting information.

If you get a few minutes this holiday weekend… it’s an interesting read about corporate espionage and a glimpse into some James Bond like activities.

The CNBC video:


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David Lee


There are several forms of this. I have been asked to "interview" with two different Fortune 500 companies where I was asked questions about things I have done. In one case I was forwarded to a "hiring manager" but not given a name in advance. After the interview I looked the person up on LinkedIn. They were in the position I was interviewing for. In the other I was asked to interview with the person who would report to me if I was hired. The position was open for 6 months and they interviewed many candidates (social media connects people in many ways). In the end, the person who was to report to the position was instead promoted.

What these companies don't realize is that they are adversely impacting their credibility and people will be reluctant to interview with them because of it. The cost to their reputation will be more than the cost to get the information they sought from a consultant.

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