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The Stalking Horse: 
Why You Don’t Want to Be One


  • Retained search firms bring in candidates for their own (and their clients’) purposes at times – candidates who have little, if any, chances of landing the job, but who are being used to fine tune the specifications in the beginning.

Strange sounding name:  Stalking Horse. What does it mean?

The Stalking Horse (also called the Benchmark Candidate) is a candidate brought in early in the search process to fine tune specifications. This candidate normally comes from the search firm’s files, and unlike the candidates expected later in the search, doesn’t have to fit the specs exactly. The search firm doesn’t expect the candidate to get the job, and the client is more forgiving if the candidate isn’t spot on. At the same time, the Stalking Horse almost never gets the job. Instead, without any other candidates for comparison, the client dismembers the candidate, finding everything wrong with him that they possibly can, and gives their feedback on him to the search firm, so they can now go find the right person. You don’t want to be the first candidate presented on a search that has just begun; you might think that this gives you a head start and that you’re in a class of one, but you’re really a sacrificial lamb.

Stalking Horses often are people to whom the search firm owes a favor. They can’t be held responsible if they present a candidate and the client doesn’t hire them. They have no control over what their client does. The search firm has done what they could for you, their friend. You don’t realize that instead, you’ve been used by the search firm.

Perhaps you want to go along with this, to build a solid relationship with a good retained search firm. If you’re working, comfortable and not actively looking, perhaps not. But be realistic with yourself. If you’re being thrown in solo, early, you’re a Stalking Horse. Your chances are slim, and you’re serving the search firm’s interests, not yours.

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