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Confidential Job Posts: 4 Reasons Not to Use Them

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Whenever I see a “confidential” job post—i.e., where the employer is undisclosed—my eyes narrow, and my breathing becomes shallow.

Transparency is one of my core values. As a recruiter, I tend to shy away from clients who want to conduct a “confidential” search. I confess I have done one or two, and I would consider another under the right circumstances. In most cases, though, I think they’re a terrible idea.

A plea to my colleagues who are hiring managers, HR professionals, and recruiters: Please reconsider the use of job posts that don’t include the organization’s name.

As a reminder to readers, I specialize in the impact sector, primarily recruiting and organizational development for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. However, if you’re in a different industry, I invite you to assess how these reflections may apply within your sector.

Now, let’s look at four reasons to avoid confidential recruitment:

1. Your brand and mission are what attract candidates.

Most job seekers in the impact sector seek to align with a particular mission: animal rescue, feeding hungry children, conserving rainforests, etc.

I’ve seen confidential job posts attempt to address this by starting with something like “large environmental NGO seeks….” Without additional context about the organization, this phrasing would actually be worrisome to a job seeker. Savvy candidates, especially those vying for leadership positions, are well aware of the reputation of most organizations in their sector. If you’re an employer of choice, you want to put your name front and center.

2. A confidential job post looks like you have something to hide.

The first thing I think when I see a confidential job post is that the person currently in the job doesn’t know they’re about to “involuntarily separate” from the organization.

Two things I’ll say about this, having been in-house HR:

  • Fire the person first. You’re doing a disservice to the new hire by trying to play this game.
  • This scenario probably accounts for a small percentage of these openings, but I’m betting job seekers assume it’s the majority.

More likely, the organization has bad press or negative online reviews, so they feel they need to hook candidates some other way. They may think they can get curious job seekers on the phone, then influence potential candidates with their own spin on what’s been happening within the organization. If job seekers had a chance to research the organization before getting on the phone, the search results would deter them from applying.

So my question is: if there’s no personnel issue or reputational problem, why bother with a confidential post?

3. Your top candidates will quickly figure out who the employer is.

One confidential search I conducted, which was very successful, was for a family philanthropy. The search didn’t rely on job posts, so I was actively working the network in the client’s focus area to find the right candidate. And no surprise, candidates who already had relationships with the organization figured out who the employer was right away. And again, no surprise, they were the finalist candidates, because they already knew the work and staff at the organization.

What did the “confidential approach” accomplish? It saved the recruiter hours of work screening applicants who didn’t have a chance, which I guess I shouldn’t complain about. We ended up with a candidate pool of only those who could speak the “secret password”. But if people who are already in the employer’s inner circle are the only eligible candidates, why bother with a recruitment at all?

4. Confidential posts are a barrier to diversity goals.

Finally, the stated intention of most hiring processes is to “cast a wide net” and attract a diverse candidate pool. But the barriers constructed by a confidential process end up excluding a lot of people, particularly individuals outside of the employer’s close network who may represent demographics and lived experience that would help the organization better fulfill its mission.

Maybe the employer doesn’t have diversity goals! However, unless an organization’s mission focuses solely on the demographics represented by current staff, the employer is missing out by not seeking to add new perspectives to its team. (Pro tip: There is always some identity that’s not represented.)


Need help running a transparent, candidate-friendly recruiting process? DM me on LinkedIn!