Hiring for Executive Positions

It is a completely different problem to hire for the top 5-10% in an organization compared to the other 90-95%. By definition, there are fewer people within these ranks, their experience/skill sets are more rarified, and candidates reached out to and developed within the course of an executive search are usually not actively seeking a job. Given the direct impact on company strategy and execution by the top 5-10%, the stakes are a lot higher as well. These reasons are a big part of why companies utilize executive search at the top levels of an organization. The executive search process requires special consideration be given to the interview and hiring process. Here are Best Practices for corporate hiring teams to consider.

Inculcate into your organization at large the overall strategic value of proactive sourcing and attentive outreach to meet executive and hard-to-find technologist hiring needs, and of utilizing the right resources and approaches to do so.

  • Ensure that all interview team members for executive recruitment understand they are interviewing as both a representative of his or her function and team, the company and in context of the overall interviewing strategy. They must also understand the importance of selling the opportunity effectively even as they conduct their assessments. (See Interviewing pages for more on this subject.)
  • For each search, establish an interview brain trust and hiring project lead to own, track and troubleshoot the process from start to finish. This person will ensure the necessary information is disseminated and the strategies are enacted by each group member, and that relevant data from the search is archived appropriately in the company HR/recruitment management systems.
  • Take input on the job description from those directly affected by the position. The ideal job description starts with an Overview of the company and opportunity and set of challenges, followed by an Introduction that communicates where the individual role fits into the overall company context and how it is important. The Responsibilities section should include not just specific tasks, but also any leadership and interface opportunities. The most crucial requirements should be prioritized, so that lesser priorities can be viewed in the context of strategic importance. The Qualifications section should include technical and interpersonal skills. To excite the best candidates, and reinforce that the interview team should be company advocates as well as candidate assessors, add a Selling Points section at the end that covers both the company and the role itself if this information is not covered in the Intro. Make sure and share the description with all interview team members.
  • If using an outside search consultant, find an experienced and savvy spokesperson for your company and its values and an advocate for your search. Just as you would empower your sales force with the best tools and knowledge for it to succeed, likewise provide your search consultant with the business case for the position’s existence, details that will enable him or her to answer questions about the technology and impact of the role, a list of target companies and even individuals, the selling points for your company and position, and the challenges you face in the context of a plan for how the challenges will be met.
  • Analyze a candidate’s resume in advance seeking out the “story arc” of his/her career history, ability to communicate, achievement orientation, knowledge base.
  • Understand that candidates developed as part of a retainer search campaign are often not on the job market in general, and have been drawn in to consideration of an opportunity by the search consultant. But for any candidate, create a comfortable environment for mutual exploration, and one that presupposes any interviewer is a public representative of your company and its values.
  • There is almost always some evolution in developing and/or understanding requirements over the course of a search. Be open, communicate to your front line search team lessons learned from interviews along the way. Within reason, cast a somewhat wider net to start.
  • Take extreme care to maintain all candidates’ confidentiality and protect against any corporate liability: never share candidate names outside the search and interview team without permission of the candidate.

When interviewing, determine motivations, not just qualifications, to evaluate the odds for repeatability of success.

  • Get to know more about the intelligence, adaptability and innate personal skills and strengths that will tell you more about repeatability of success in your environment. Using well thought out hypothetical situations can help here.
  • In hiring for technical leadership roles, go beyond specific areas of technical expertise to determine the person’s ability to understand the overall system. Has s/he worked at multiple layers of the stack, or with a large range of components and interconnects? Has s/he conquered learning curves quickly, for example learning new platforms, languages and tools, and consistently risen to leadership roles?
  • While interviewing and reference checking, ask how, then ask it some more.
  • Ferret out improvement needs.
  • Establish and maintain relentlessly a timely and clear feedback loop among all the key stakeholders, e.g. hiring manager, corporate recruiter, outside recruiter, select interview team members. This includes candidate feedback as well as evolution of search strategies and even job descriptions. The ability to respond with feedback quickly sends a positive message about your interest and/or ability to organize around an important process. And momentum is crucial in attracting top candidates.
  • Think about what references you want; don’t just automatically accept names. EGS Elite is not an advocate of “back door” references, i.e. referencing candidates with people you know or find without the candidate’s permission, unless those people are employees of your company. Doing so can jeopardize a candidate’s job security, and create liability for the referencing company. Accurate and telling reference workups can be done with a well thought out reference strategy and an appropriately probing approach during the check. One can expand reference sources by asking a candidate if it’s okay to check with other people you know, even if the names aren’t specified up front.
  • Reference the referencer: how long s/he has known the candidate, how well. How objective can the reference be? Cross-reference information and concerns among multiple references.
  • Do not fail to sell the position and company, regardless of whether or not the candidate will be a likely hire. Be advocates for and protectors of a positive Candidate Experience. Doing so bolsters the positive company brand.
  • Hiring authorities need to be accessible to the search consultant, and creative about selling targeted top candidates. Work closely with your search consultant to develop the best and most individualized tactics.
  • Negotiate compensation packages and hiring terms as much as possible with an eye on establishing future team values: take a win-win perspective, find quid pro quos.

There is no 100% security or guarantee for success in hiring. But one of the measures for any good approach is how much it lowers your risk of failure.

And if you don’t at least think through your approach consciously, partner with your external resources effectively and perform your diligence methodically, then hirer beware!
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