The success or failure of your executive search efforts can dictate the future of your company and its bottom line. Top-level executive leadership is vital to implementing effective programs and achieving company goals. Notwithstanding the clear connection between leadership and company performance, the successful placement rate for top executives remains low. Even with a diverse group of individuals vetting candidates, hiring decisions are often made through a loosely defined process and based on paltry amounts of objective information. Decisions are often left to gut impressions or feelings.
C-suite positions require a complex set of skills, which can be challenging to define and quantify. Finding the best candidate depends on your ability to look beyond feelings and impressions to evaluate and identify the best leaders objectively.
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1. Clarify the Position
Before you start reviewing CVs or interviewing candidates, you should define the qualities and abilities necessary for this particular position within your company. The work of an executive is different from managers’ work at other levels within an organization. Executives bear the responsibility of establishing policy rather than implementing existing policy. They are also the face of the company, regularly interacting with shareholders on one end and employees on the other. Defining the required skills for executives often begins by defining proficiencies that every c-suite employee should possess.
It is not unusual to seek candidates who have a skillset similar to your own or whose experience you view as valuable for the company. Hiring an executive using these criteria will keep the company status quo but won’t likely move it forward to achieve future goals.
Know where your company is now and where you want it to be. Are you recovering from a poor performance year, restructuring, or preparing for a banner year? Each of these situations requires a different set of abilities to navigate successfully. Ensure that you include these talents as you define the position requirements and review them regularly. The required skillset will change as your company evolves and market conditions fluctuate.
2. Employ an Executive Recruiter
While it may make sense to promote an internal employee familiar with the company, there are times when hiring externally, specifically for executive positions, is wiser.
Candidates from outside your organization are not entrenched in current company culture and practices. While their values should still align with your vision, they have the unique ability to view issues from a different perspective. If you want to execute sweeping changes due to poor performance, a desire for rapid growth, or management changes, it may be the perfect opportunity to introduce someone new.
C-level executive recruiters employ a very specialized set of skills in identifying and recruiting the best candidates for open positions. They can help you define the position based on the position title, responsibilities, market conditions, and company goals. These firms quickly identify candidates across many business sectors and areas of the country from their extensive network of contacts. They can narrow the search pool, allowing you to concentrate your time and efforts on only the most qualified individuals.
3. Improve Evaluation Methods
In most cases, the internal recruitment process relies heavily on information gleaned from three sources – the CV, references, and interviews. While these sources paint a picture of the candidate, it is not always accurate and will not be capable of evaluating your candidate for all the skills vital to the job.
A candidate’s CV is their opportunity to boast about past positions and accomplishments. The difficulty in relying on this document is that the words on the page may not accurately portray the truth. Candidates may exaggerate successes and omit failures. When you write the story, you are in control.
Likewise, character and business references are nearly always positive. The applicant may list only the people who view them favorably. And even if a reference has negative feedback to share, they may refrain out of fear of litigation from the applicant.
Of the three internal recruitment evaluation tools, interviews are the most useful. Whether structured or unstructured, the interview is your chance to get to know the candidate and see how they respond under pressure. Open-ended questions can assess their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are vital to any executive’s success.
Thoroughly evaluating candidates should involve multiple assessment tools.
- Cognitive Tests: Used by the United States military to identify potential leaders since World War I, cognitive tests work well for identifying candidates with high cognitive function, which is linked to effective leadership. Unfortunately, executive search candidates often score well, and thus at times may not be a good differentiator. These tests could also undermine diversity, as they may be biased toward certain demographics.
- Simulations: Simulations present candidates with real-world problems to solve. These assessments can shed light on a candidate’s leadership and problem-solving abilities as they must interact with others in offering their solutions. The high cost of simulation assessments can be a deterrent.
- Personality Assessment: These tests look for the presence or absence of positive traits or flaws. Research into the connection between personality and leadership ability indicates a strong relationship between traits such as openness, emotional stability, extroversion, as well as successful leadership.
Making a Decision
Make sure to enlist objective tools and practices as you make your executive hiring decisions. Leaning excessively on the interview or a gut feeling can be a costly mistake. If you are working with an executive search firm, take advantage of all of the guidance that they provide, and then move forward confidently with your final choice. C-level recruiting can be daunting because so much of your company’s success rides on it, but by drawing on the best resources, you can guarantee the highest degree of success in your executive hiring decisions.