How to Recruit Executive Talent

Sourcing executives can be incredibly tough: the more experienced the candidate, the savvier and polished your recruiting process needs to be. You cannot assume that your external brand alone is enough to attract and obtain highly coveted executive talent; the recruiting and hiring process is essential to your C-suite recruiting success.

More and more data points to the fact that it’s a sellers market when it comes to hiring talent. Individuals at all levels, particularly the C-Suite, are enjoying the opportunity to choose from a wide array of companies. Conversely, according to a 2014 HBS article, the rate of failure within the first two years for executives hired externally is around 40%. The question is simple: will your company be seen as an attractive employer and is your hiring strategy enough to attract the right talent who will become a long-term player in your corporate strategy?

Along with some tried and tested ways, there are some decisions you must make to ensure your executive recruiting efforts are successful:

Your first task is to be specific about the qualifications of the right individual for the position. If you make the mistake of hiring to a more general description rather than a detailed outline complete with specifics around culture fit, you’re setting yourself up to spend endless energy and resources that may or may not yield — or even attract —the right candidate. In my experience with acquiring talent for a Fortune 200 power player, most hiring decisions that did not work out were a direct result of lack of culture fit, which is a direct result of lack of specificity around the right person for the role. Define the role and be exacting about the traits of the right person for the job.

Decision number two is determining how you will engage with prospective candidates, which means deciding to utilize your internal talent acquisition resources and/or engaging an executive search firm. Internal teams should operate much the same as executive search, using finesse and a confident touch when contacting and attracting top executive talent. Usually, one or two individuals who focus on executive sourcing will yield amazing results across the organization, as perfecting the skills to recruit at this level are best honed over time. If you do engage a third party search firm, there are a number of benefits to their extensive reach and ability to negotiate any sensitivity around calling into competitors. In addition, having your internal candidates go through an external assessment process ensures everyone is assessed equally and legitimizes the process as fair and equitable.

Next step is to clarify your candidate branding and marketing strategy. A good number of the top candidates won’t be looking to move, so your appeal needs to be irresistible to gain their attention. Since you have a sharp idea of the type of candidate you wish to attract, you should have a good idea what will resonate. If you tailor the value proposition to the candidate, they will be more responsive to exploring the opportunity.

Your fourth decision will be determining the assessment process, which involves building the selection committee and the core team of interviewers is vital to your success. Select people who are strong ambassadors but who can objectively qualify the candidate against the necessary qualifications. Both sides of this interviewing process are vital. Remember, in a sellers market, candidates are assessing the quality of their inevitable work environment along with the open position. You will also want to ensure that you have the right assessment tools for the process; I have personally found the executive assessments of specialized firms skilled in behavioral interviewing and testing to be incredibly valuable. The best hiring decisions are made when due diligence is performed. Don’t worry about the time and expense: the cost of a bad executive hiring decision will cost more in time, reputation, and credibility if you get it wrong.

After the interview, you’ll want to validate your candidate, which is where it gets tricky at the C-suite level.  Most candidates will request you not contact their current employer until they have a confirmed offer, and few companies will extend an offer without being sure about who they are hiring. The reality is that you can work around this by having them supply a confidential list of individuals can validate your candidate, and then perform the normal aspects of the background check. Also, it never hurts to make any offer contingent upon a successful background check.

Now, it’s time to construct a compelling offer, which should happen swiftly before your candidate loses interest or is hit with another competitive offer (it’s amazing how one interview sparks more interest in testing the waters.) More than just presenting an offer, I strongly believe that the personal touch goes a long way. A call from the CEO or having a key executive make the offer along with why they want the individual to join can add extra gravitas to the candidate’s decision.

Finally, you have to remain patient. With top talent comes the inevitable: the counteroffer from their current employer. Anticipating this event puts you in a strong position to negotiate. Determine exactly how much more you would be willing to extend to the candidate enables you to act swiftly to secure the candidate. If your top candidate declines your offer, it’s also critical that a slate of top talent is identified, and talent mapping goes a long way to building this list of viable individuals. Continue to interview right up to the point where someone converts to hire.

These tips should help you craft a top drawer executive recruiting strategy. Your next best hire awaits you!

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