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The Art and Science of Recruiting Exceptional Leaders

Nov 07, 2018 – by Kirk Palmer Associates

Who wouldn’t want to work here?

This question underlies a counterproductive hiring mindset that often inhibits companies from hiring great candidates. It’s a confusing approach given the intensity of the current job market, but it’s one we encounter in the retail industry with surprising frequency.

In an economic climate where there are more open jobs than there are people to fill them, attracting top executive talent requires a nuanced blend of tactical and emotional work on the part of the employer. It may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked:

  1. People have choices,
  2. Your company is not necessarily their first one.

Let me rephrase that – you are not necessarily a candidate’s first choice, yet. There’s an art and science to executive recruiting that can be extremely effective in attracting well-established, high-impact talent to even the most difficult positions. Companies that consistently hire exceptional talent understand this and codify it into the candidate experience.

So what are these companies doing right? While each has its own ‘secret sauce,’ a few common behaviors emerge. To hire great leaders, consider these critical factors when embarking on a search:

1. Align your vision.

An executive search is a journey that often takes time as well as twists and turns. Before diving in, it’s important to articulate a clear vision that will guide your team’s actions and decision-making throughout the process. Most clients I work with benefit from asking themselves this important question:

What are we willing to do to bring in the best person?

Calibrating commitments and expectations up front is critical to hiring top-tier executives. With unemployment at a 17-year low, great candidates know they have options and are far less tolerant of cumbersome interview processes, inconsistent communication and lengthy timelines. Studies show that people are naturally biased against the first option considered. But in this market, your team should be equipped to act swiftly and decisively when you find ‘the one’ – even if it’s the first person you meet.

2. Cast your hiring committee wisely.

The saying ‘people work for people, not companies’ is particularly relevant in recruiting. The people a candidate meets and the quality of those interactions during the interview process are leading indicators of acceptance (or the alternative) when an offer is extended.

With that in mind, I typically advise my clients that less is more as it pertains to the number of individuals in the interview process, but that more is more when it comes to time spent. Too many voices can drown out the ones that matter most – it’s best to keep it limited to decision-makers only.

Once you’ve established your hiring panel, prioritizing dedicated interview time is the next must-do step. Your team’s availability to meet with potential candidates is directly reflective of your company’s commitment to hiring the best. Top executives are typically employed and have busy schedules. The longer and more convoluted the process, the less likely they are to stay interested.

Leveraging your CEO and other senior leaders throughout the interview process is another highly effective tool for signaling interest and engaging candidates. CEOs from top tech companies get this, with some dedicating up to 50% of their time to getting talented people on board. It works.

3. Consider your blind spots.

There are many internal and external factors that top executive candidates evaluate when considering a new role. Public perception – of the company, its leadership, the industry, the location – is a key consideration many companies overlook.

Talented people have choices. Even well-loved brands can struggle to hire top candidates if they don’t acknowledge this fact. Apparel retailers lose talent to the fast-growing beauty industry. California-based companies lose talent to locations with lower costs of living. Apple loses talent to Amazon.

To recruit the best, companies need to take an honest look at the role from the candidate perspective and craft an authentic value proposition that highlights opportunities while proactively addressing foreseeable concerns. Be transparent and invite an open dialogue – even companies with negative media attention can hire top candidates via this approach. It’s all about building trust.

4. Take the lead and close the deal.

Executive search partners are brand ambassadors, confidants, and advocates, but our impact is limited to the quality of interactions candidates have during the interview process. When you meet someone you’re interested in, it’s time to take the reins.

‘Wooing’ candidates is a key part of recruiting, and it’s something only you can do. Take them to lunch, gift them a book, share why you decided to join the company – wining and dining goes a long way to engaging candidates and accelerating their interest in the role. Sometimes, all it takes is a strategically timed phone call or an encouraging text message. Small gestures help form human connections. The extra mile matters.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, cultivating a positive candidate experience is both an offensive and defensive strategy. As a recent McKinsey article on the growing talent shortage warns, ‘[T]he scarcer top talent becomes, the more companies that aren’t on their game will find their best people cherry-picked by companies that are.’

So consider your candidate experience, and ask again: What are we willing to do to bring in the best person?

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