A Measured Approach

Navigating the executive search process

Smart Business
Matthew A. Mooney + Brad Westveld interviewed by Adam Burroughs

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There are numerous challenges when attempting to fill a senior level executive position: the lack of qualified candidates; mountains of data, which may not fully articulate the candidate’s capabilities; time; and the pressure to make the right hire.

“The wrong hire can compromise an otherwise sound strategy, lead to misjudging a market, missing opportunities or steering a company down the wrong path,” says Matt Mooney a partner at ON Partners.

“While there are many challenges, there are strategies that can be used to avoid costly stumbles during a very important process,” says Brad Westveld, a partner at ON Partners.

Smart Business spoke with Mooney and Westveld about the do’s and don’ts of conducting an executive search.

 

What are the challenges companies face when looking to fill executive positions?

There are likely not enough qualified executives with a proven track record of success to fill most of the in-demand jobs, especially in hot segments such as wireless, cloud computing, analytics, Internet of Things and wearables. To find the right candidate, companies need to look beyond the obvious.

There is significant data that can be used to find top candidates. Parsing that data to find a qualified candidate, however, only scratches the surface of the available market. The growth of LinkedIn and its integration into the search process leads companies to believe they are seeing the entire market of talent, but they are often not doing enough to diversify their searches.

Hiring managers can also overemphasize candidates from specific companies or backgrounds. It is an easy trap to assume where someone has worked is the best indication of skill or potential.

There are top executives in challenged companies and there are very average executives in some top companies. That is why it is important to dig beyond the superficial and have a deeper understanding of the talent and related market dynamics impacting your search.

 

How can companies improve their probability of landing the right candidate?

Getting the right candidate is balancing market availability and culture. Having an accurate understanding of your company’s position in the market and industry, your competitive advantages and disadvantages, and your goals and your culture are critical. The ability to articulate these key points to potential candidates is one of the most important aspects of the hiring process.

Top talent in this current market can afford to be picky. Even a passive candidate may be approached on multiple opportunities, even when they are not actively looking. Companies cannot attract these top influencers if they cannot accurately describe the company’s position in the market, and that does not happen through a clever elevator pitch.

Companies must develop a relationship with their candidate, both for the benefit of the candidate and the company. Give him or her insight into your strategy and culture, and provide anecdotes to demonstrate a human element to the company.

Make the candidate feel as if he or she is already a part of the team. You want any candidate to come away highly interested and a fan of your business. The search process is also a great marketing campaign and a unique opportunity to show the outside world the best elements of your business.

A poor candidate experience has a negative impact with that one candidate, but will also hurt your reputation, making it harder to attract and retain top talent.

Finally, referencing has largely become a lost art. Go beyond contacting the three formal references the candidate provides, and have the hiring manager make several of the reference calls.

Push candidates for additional references and view the process as more than a background check, but also the first key step in a new employee’s successful on-boarding process. The reference should highlight situations in which a candidate performs well and where he or she struggles.

Conducting a senior-level executive search is a simple process that most companies struggle to do well. No individual component of the search process is difficult, but taken as a whole it is complex and fraught with pitfalls.

The successful hire is critical to the future of a business, so it is important to invest the time to get it right or find a competent partner to help. ●

Resources: Smart Business Online

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