When initiating an executive search, we often ask clients to describe the perfect candidate. We frequently hear descriptions like, “I’m looking for a young Steve Jobs,” or “We’d love someone like Meg Whitman, but earlier in her career.” But when pressed, clients are not always able to determine the underlying characteristics that led such luminaries to their long- term success.
How do you know if a candidate is right when all you have is a resume and a few hours of interviewing as evidence? Do you need to interview hundreds of candidates in order to find the right one? How can you be certain that your process will find the best possible hire?
Large or small, companies with effective hiring practices bring the following qualities to their recruiting:
Self-Knowledge: The successful hiring manager understands the company and the individual department/division this potential leader will supervise. Self-knowledge includes not only strategic imperatives, but also organizational culture and interpersonal dynamics. Is the industry undergoing any changes that may impact this role? Who are the key stakeholders that this leader will interact with? The more you can realistically assess the environment, the better you will be able to identify a fit.
Alignment: Your “jury” will be all executives involved in assessing the potential candidate. Too often, a company will move forward with a search and identify a candidate that seems ideal, only to find that some members of the jury were looking for a different professional profile. Making sure all involved parties are aligned is critically important at the beginning of the search and can prevent disasters further down the line.
Skilled Interviewers: Not everyone knows how to interview candidates. This is not a skill set that many people come by naturally, so it can be helpful to speak briefly with each person on the “jury” to make sure he/she understands how to assess potential hires. Some companies ask different managers to probe for different characteristics, whereas others allow each manager to evaluate candidates in their own way. Whatever approach you decide to take, make sure you make this decision deliberately and explicitly.
Focus: Searches that drag on typically do so because of a lack of focus in the beginning. What problem are you trying to solve with this hire? Understanding what you are looking for allows you to identify the most likely sources to find that profile of candidate.
Candidate Care: Your best recruiting tool is your reputation. When conducting outreach for clients on a particular search, it is not uncommon to run across candidates who have already heard that the position was open, and who may know someone who has interviewed for the job. Even if a candidate is not selected for the position, he or she should feel that the process was fair and conducted in a respectful and professional manner.
On average, a typical senior level search takes about 5 months. When all the elements of a good search are in place, things can move even more quickly, and your search will produce an excellent, long term candidate.
Tracy L. Lawrence is a management consultant who works with business organizations and individuals on executive search, executive assessment, leadership coaching and organizational development.