Headhunters Confidential

10 Executive Search Tips


If you've launched an external search for a world-class business or nonprofit executive, you may have already been frustrated by the process, the cost, and the results (or lack thereof). Your search must be led with a sense of urgency. Otherwise, the opportunity cost relating to the senior-management vacancy will surge. And if it hasn't produced a good fit for the role and your culture—someone who stays in the job and meets performance expectations—the cost of a bad executive hire will end up too high. To get the most from executive search, keep the following 10 tips in mind.

1. Know why retained executive search is different from other forms of recruitment.

Retain an executive search consultant if a) your organization wants to recruit executives now employed by competitors or other employers; b) the candidate is not actively seeking a new opportunity; or c) the search requires confidentiality, special resources because of its expected difficulty to complete, or connectivity to a network of referral sources and an ability to convert business leaders into candidates.

2. Do your homework.

You can draw a straight line from the due diligence you put into assessing, selecting, and engaging an executive search consultant to the results your organization receives. Do research on which consultants are qualified to lead the search, then choose the best rather than resorting to the one whose name or firm's brand is the best known to internal stakeholders. Remember, quality in, quality out.

3. Don't let cost-per-hire drive your strategic search decisions.

Too often, businesses apply cost-per-hire as the sole screen on executive search decisions. Remember, at the executive level, you're hiring for business growth and profit potential, not cost avoidance alone. Unfortunately, many hiring organizations put critical searches in the hands of the lowest-bidding recruiter. The lesson is simple: You get what you pay for.

4. Specifically ask for a diverse candidate slate.

Don't assume that the search consultant will purposefully target diverse leadership candidates. The hiring organization must specifically state that diversity is an objective of the search assignment, and diverse candidate slates should follow.

5. Sell the whole package.

Never assume that top executive candidates don't have other career options. Remember that they're evaluating you and your organization as much as you're evaluating them. Be an enthusiastic interviewer, and don't forget to market what's great about your organization, team, and the specific opportunity. If they're a great fit, superior candidates will be attracted to your narrative and feel a sense of support and enthusiasm from prospective new employers. The interview team has to sell the whole package, while the search consultant can verify it and offer comparisons with other opportunities.

6. Avoid interviewing delays.

Don't commit to be a stakeholder on any executive search assignment unless you can clear your schedule to meet candidates and provide timely feedback. Failing to commit to the process can cost your organization top candidates. The opportunity cost of each executive vacancy is huge, and the best candidates won't wait for you if you're not prepared and committed to make timely decisions.

7. Don't forget a background check.

Leave the reference checking to your executive search consultant. But the background check is another matter and should be managed by your hiring organization. It may include a form for candidates to consent to the background check, and its actual course may include such screening elements as a review of criminal record databases and confirmation of past employment and educational credentials.

8. Use onboarding.

Given that research shows as many as 40% of externally recruited executives fail within their first 18 months, plan an extensive onboarding program. It will help the recently hired executive avoid fatal mistakes and accelerate the learning curve.

9. Provide closure for finalists.

If you've interviewed an executive for a top role with your company, you owe that person the courtesy of some closure on his or her candidacy. Ensure that either someone from your organization or your executive search consultant has closed the loop and informed the individual that the search resulted in hiring someone else.

10. Don't lose your institutional memory.

In today's business environment, performance hinges partly on learning from past mistakes and documenting the performance of external advisers. Hiring organizations can begin to reduce cost, accelerate the search process, and track results if they know which search consultants they're engaging, how they're engaging them, and why.

Joe_mccool
Joseph Daniel McCool is the author of Deciding Who Leads, named "one of the best business books of 2008" by Soundview and Business Book Review, and principal of www.TheMcCoolGroup.com, which advises corporate decision-makers on assessment, selection, engagement, and performance score-carding of executive search consultants and related externally focused management succession issues.

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