The right or wrong executive hire can have an immense and lasting impact on the trajectory and success of your business. It is imperative, therefore, that HR departments take all steps possible to avoid a bad hire at the top. Clarendon’s Joanne McAuley provides some tips on what to look out for when appointing executive-level candidates.
When companies make critical senior-level appointments, the stakes are high. Firstly, the financial investment is often sizeable. Large salaries, benefits, and bonuses all add up. Secondly, C-Suite candidates will potentially be stepping into roles that carry a significant amount of responsibility and power.
The influence of an executive on the overall welfare of a company cannot be underestimated, given that most oversee almost every aspect of its operations, from financial performance to corporate relationships to brand reputation.
So, what should companies be looking out for or doing to ensure they make the right appointment and avoid costly mistakes?
No matter if it’s a newly created or existing position, the process of hiring a senior executive should start with a deep understanding of the role – as seen through the lens of company culture, future business strategy and delivery expectations. It’s time to rip up any previous job description and start afresh.
During this stage the specific demands of the role as well as the type of skills, personality and experience required must be clearly defined. This is a unique opportunity for constructive dialogue between HR and senior management, building clarity and consensus among key stakeholders about the requirements of the role and what it needs to deliver for the company as a whole.
It is also important to consider how the role will develop over time so that the successful candidate understands the opportunity for him or her to progress their career as the business evolves.
In developing a strong candidate pool an organisation may seek assistance from external recruitment partners who will ideally be fully briefed at an early stage to ensure a focused search that targets the best candidates. One key advantage of using an external recruitment partner specialising in executive level appointments is that they can tap into networks of potential candidates who are not actively looking for their next role.
Preferably the search will develop a large pool that includes internal and external candidates. HR has an important role to play in encouraging open discussions at the top of the organisation about how to conduct the search and ensure the right level of involvement of both HR and senior management throughout the process.
Once the candidate pool has been established organisations need to ensure they have a robust assessment process in place. Best practice indicates that having more than one in-depth, structured interview is important.
Conducting several interviews, formal and informal, will allow the organisation to verify technical competence and experience and also assess a candidate’s work ethic, values and leadership qualities to ensure they are the right ‘fit’ for the company.
Interviews should be conducted by well-trained, high calibre, motivated interviewers and an organisation should ensure that senior managers are educated and trained in interview techniques.
In order to help you make the right decision, applying the following approach during interviews may prove useful:
Be Creative – Every candidate will be prepared for commonplace interview questions. Unusual questions will encourage candidates to open up and provide insights into what really makes them tick.
Be Challenging – Put the candidate in situations where they are more likely to show their true selves.
Get different perspectives – Ask a number of colleagues to meet with the candidate, as they will spot things that nobody else can see. Ultimately, whomever you hire is going to interact with a number of people in your company, so they all have an interest in ensuring the person is a good hire.
When sizing up job candidates, two key qualities to check for are: Is the person genuinely interested in the work of the organisation? Do they treat people as equals, regardless of their title? This can give a good insight into to how well they will perform and integrate with others.
Finally, where doing business over lunch is the norm for senior executives, it makes sense that taking a candidate out for lunch or dinner is a valuable way of evaluating their social skills, manners and ability to multitask.
Increasingly organisations are turning to assessment tools and exercises to provide a more in-depth perspective on a candidate and build up a detailed profile for use in conjunction with interview evidence. In the case of personality measures, the information can be used to inform interview questions.
When used properly and tailored to the specific role, psychometric assessment also introduces more rigour and objectivity into the recruitment process and will support more accurate identification of the personal and occupational characteristics that the organisation needs.
One of the leading causes of executive hiring mistakes can be traced to failing to do adequate checks or waiting to make reference checks until the final step in the hiring process, perhaps even after a formal offer has been made.
To avoid making a mistake at this stage, organisations need to ensure that they include detailed reference checking as a critical step in the hiring journey and not left to afterthought.
A candidate will be asked to provide contact details for up to three referees and it is important to follow up and speak to each one in person. It is also good practice when hiring at senior level to do extra reference checks – using networks, contacts, customers and suppliers to get feedback on a candidate.
When a decision has been made and the organisation is ready to make an offer, all key stakeholders should be involved in the process – not just HR but also the hiring manager and senior management team. The compensation package should be fair to the candidate and to other employees.
Maintaining close and regular contact with the candidate is essential at this stage, demonstrating active support and commitment to the candidate and to their future success. This proactive and regular contact will send a powerful message that the company cares about the candidate’s future.
The process isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be over the minute a candidate starts in his or her new role. Another key, but often overlooked, stage in the hiring journey is the onboarding and induction phase.
This is critical to ensuring the new hire integrates easily into their new role and organisation. Research shows that organisations that systematically integrate new employees enjoy lower turnover and report higher engagement and job satisfaction. It’s worth considering using another Senior Management team member as a mentor during the onboarding phase or seeking assistance from an external coach who is experienced in providing transitional support for new executive hires.
With the new executive in place it provides an opportunity for an organisation to review its hiring practices. New hires can provide valuable feedback on the process and help to highlight good practice or where there is room for improvement.
Following these steps in the recruitment journey will help an organisation to find the top talent it needs to drive strong, sustainable business performance. Good hiring practices will enhance the corporate reputation and ensure the organisation is seen as an employer of choice, which in turn will attract the best candidates.