4 Keys to a Successful Executive Search

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During the Scale Up Summit in San Antonio this past May, the audience of roughly 1,000 executives from high-growth firms was polled on its top business challenges. For the majority of respondents, the answer was “people”:


As the survey results suggest, the war for talent is on, and winning that war is a major factor in success for virtually every firm on the planet right now.

But this war is not so easily won. With unemployment well below 5 percent in the U.S., only second-tier candidates are perusing job boards and career sites like Monster and Indeed. In tight talent markets, employers need to start looking for those highly skilled passive candidates who are happily employed but open to new opportunities, should they arise. Passive candidates are too busy producing in their current roles to check job boards, but they will listen to well-crafted overtures concerning new opportunities that will help them get ahead in their careers.

This is where top executive recruiters and/or search firms come into play. Such firms have the experience, reputation, and technology to find and attract these in-demand employees who aren’t looking before they get found.

Top firms usually command as much as 25-30 percent of the new employee’s first year earnings as compensation for a successfully completed search, which can be off-putting to some. However, this investment is a bargain when the firm lands a bona fide A-player who can actually produce a return on your investment in just a few short months.

When working with an executive recruiter to find top-quality passive talent, follow these four keys to ensure success:

1. Develop a Strong, Detailed Job Specification Before You Start the Search

As the saying goes, “A person who focuses on nothing hits it with amazing accuracy.” The same is true in executive search. If you want to get the best candidates who excellently fit your position, then you need to develop a very exacting job specification up front. This will enable the executive recruiter to find candidates in very specific industries and companies with the skill sets and experiences you’re looking for. A detailed specification will also help your executive recruiter avoid unqualified candidates and candidates from other niches who may not be right for your company.

2. Don’t Play ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ on Great Candidates

Believe it or not, this happens often. The hiring company puts a lot of pressure on the executive recruiter to source candidates quickly. The recruiter returns some excellent candidates who really fit the role.

signUnfortunately, for some unknown reason, companies start dragging their feet at this stage. Top candidates do not want to be kept waiting. They don’t want to hear the employer is either resetting or rethinking its strategy. This will only give top candidates pause.

To successfully recruit passive candidates, momentum is the name of the game. Keep the process moving swiftly, and you’ll impress them. Stall, and they will quickly lose interest – or get picked up by a competing firm.

3. Follow a Structured Interview Process

Moving swiftly does not mean dropping your guard. No matter how speedy the hiring process, there is always time for a structured interview process. In fact, A-player candidates will respect that you have a formal vetting process that uses assessments and deep-dive interviews to filter out weak candidates.

Best practice for this structured process includes:

– several screening interviews via phone;
– utilizing a career history form to eliminate the falsehoods and exaggerations commonly found in resumes;
– a behavioral assessment to understand how the candidate thinks and acts in real-life situations;
– and an in-depth 2-4 hour interview with the candidate and the entire executive team.

Usually, offers are tendered immediately after the extensive interview, as the entire team can make an informed decision quickly due to the collaborative nature of the process. Your candidate will be impressed with your speed and decisiveness.

As the candidate goes through this detailed process, they also grow much more familiar with and comfortable in the culture of the executive team they are aiming to join. This will make the candidate much more inclined to accept an offer quickly once you extend it.

4. Be Patient; Wait for the Right Candidate

Finding the ideal candidate can take time. It is critical that hiring managers and HR pros stay patient and wait to find the right match. Inevitably, a top-notch executive recruiter will find great candidates who meet your needs.

As painful as the wait may seem when you have a dire opening, hiring the wrong candidate can set your organization back months, if not years. As noted talent expert Brad Smart advises, “No breath is better than bad breath” when it comes to sourcing talent.

Rick Crossland is author of the book The A Player.

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Rick Crossland is author of the book, "The A Player." He works with organizations across the country to transform good companies into great companies. More information on this and other ways to improve your own performance and the performance of your organization and culture can be found in the "The A Player." More resources are available at www.aplayeradvantage.com.