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8 Ways to Successfully Recruit Senior Hires in Today’s Candidate-Driven Market

By Jennifer Silvester


Executive Recruiting Has Changed, & So Should Your Approach

With a shrinking pool of qualified ready-now senior leaders, competition for qualified leadership talent is at an all-time high. This demand for talent comes at a time when the traits and characteristics for successful leaders are more nuanced than ever before. Leaders at all levels now require both the technical skills and the social and emotional intelligence to successfully lead their multigenerational teams.

Finding the right leader can feel like a daunting task for the most talented hiring executives. As we start off the new year, we have compiled a list of eight strategies we believe companies should consider adding to their strategic hiring initiatives this year.

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1. Invest In Succession Planning and Recruit From Within

Companies who focus on developing internal talent and have a succession plan in place have an invaluable advantage over companies who do not. Perhaps we are stating the obvious here, but it is surprising that still only 2 in 10 companies report having a solid succession plan in place for their senior leadership. Only 20% of public boards and 32% of private boards can answer “yes†to the question that they have discussed CEO succession in the last 12 months.

Succession planning and proactive employee development plans are a great strategy to build an internal candidate pool. It is also an effective strategy to help attract top new talent to the organization. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer of 2022, 82% of candidates place significant weight on their decision to join or stay with a company based on whether they believe they will receive professional development, mentorship, and career advancement opportunities.

In a highly competitive environment, reducing unplanned turnover rates should be a strategic priority as it will cost companies 50% more in lost revenue than the vacated job’s salary. The cost of unplanned attrition is far more significant for executive roles.  Developing a succession and development plan that promotes employee engagement and retention prepares your business for expected and unexpected leadership transitions, saving valuable resources, time, money, and effort.

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2. Clearly Define Your Employment Brand & Company Story

More than ever, leaders are attracted to companies whose stories, values, or missions align with their own. Most great leaders will have multiple options when they begin to explore new opportunities. To successfully get the attention and interest from these highly qualified leaders, you must engage with candidates on a more personal level and in a way that showcases your brand story, values, and culture. This should be a top priority when considering a search firm partner. It is important that a search firm can tell the story of the organization, the role, and the “why†a candidate should consider your company against others. When working with an executive search firm who is knowledgeable in your industry, they will be far more effective and credible in gaining the attention and interest from senior leaders.

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3. Invest in Your Hiring Leaders

As the old adage goes, “people leave leaders, not companiesâ€. In a largely candidate driven market, this has been expanded to “candidates choose their leader, not so much a companyâ€. A company can have an incredible brand story and reputation, but if the direct hiring leader falls short of creating a vision for the position and demonstrating a candidate can learn from working with that individual, your offer is still likely to be rejected.

To be effective in filling key roles, companies must invest in supporting leadership development and interview skills continuously. Too often we still see senior leaders treating candidates as though they are a dime a dozen, when in reality that one candidate may be the best, and most qualified. These leaders habitually take too long to schedule an interview, cancel interviews with little notice, or do not allot the expected or proper amount of time to the interview conversation. Even worse, some of these leaders treat the interview process as though they are the judge/jury and the candidate is on trial.

Effective interviewing today requires a more collaborative dialogue, especially for senior leaders. When using an executive search firm, no interview will be with an unqualified candidate. Because a search firm has done the heavy lifting of sorting through candidates to narrow to the top 2-3, interviews should shift from qualifying a candidate to a mutual exploratory and collaborative dialogue that will allow both parties to make an informed decision about whether they have aligned skills, experience, chemistry, and shared vision.

This is all the more reason to carefully curate a leadership team who will inspire, develop, and retain others.

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4. Be Open to Non-Traditional Candidate Pools

Being more open-minded and creative about where and how we search for talent in today’s market is critical to recruiting success at all levels. To be creative, you first must clearly understand the position you are recruiting. What are the must-have v. nice-to-have skills, what would success look like in the first year, and how long do you expect the candidate to spend in the position? With a clear vision of the ideal candidate, you can begin exploring alternative candidate pools that you may have been overlooked before. Here are a few alternatives we often explore:

  • Candidates in adjacent fields or similar industries. It is a tendency for hiring leaders to want industry experience but it is not always necessary for success. For example, perhaps you can find qualified supply chain, finance, HR or even quality leaders in the med-device industry who would work well in the highly-regulated aerospace environment. There are many executive roles that strictly require industry or specific product expertise, but it is always worthwhile revisiting this assumption.
  • Consider experienced candidates over the age of 60, the fastest growing segment of the workforce. Yet according to PwC, only 8% of corporations include age as part of their D&I strategies. This often overlooked or over-stereotyped segment is ready and able to jump in and be difference makers. Many leaders want to work well past age 60 and have the energy, experience, and ethic to make significant contributions. These leaders should be sought out with as much interest and enthusiasm as other candidates.
  • Hiring for potential v. the traditional pedigree is another way to be more creative. When evaluating a role, consider the team that will surround the role and whether the organization can afford hiring a high-potential, stretch candidate who does not yet have all of the skills or experience. These hires require more support from formal and informal mentors and a clear onboarding/support plan but this effort is typically rewarded with a successful and loyal leader. The reality is that organizations must accelerate their leadership development for younger leaders to satisfy the demand.

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5. Stay Mindful of the Candidate’s Experience

The candidate experience is like a window into your company. It is the first opportunity candidates have to see into your organization, observe leaders in action, understand the structure, values, and culture that drives it. At the executive level it is especially important to design a candidate experience and interview process that provides an “eyes wide-open†view of all aspects of the company, team, and position challenges they’ll be expected to navigate.

A great candidate experience will not only improve the odds of an offer being accepted, but it also can create advocates for your company’s brand. A poor experience on the other hand can be particularly damaging to your company and brand, causing candidates to reject offers and oftentimes dissuading others from applying as well. Virgin Atlantic famously studied this issue and discovered an estimated $5M lost revenue as a result of a poorly engineered candidate experience.

If you are working with outside search firms, ask about how they design a candidate experience that will protect your brand reputation and theirs. It is always interesting to ask how a search firm measures the candidate experience. If it is measured, it is important to them. In our firm, we measure candidate satisfaction through an NPR score.

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6.  Be Ready to Move Quickly and Without a Long-List Slate

When working with a search firm, you should expect that they are doing most of the assessment and evaluation for you. These firms traditionally have had the time and large candidate pools to develop a long-list slate of potential candidates who are both highly qualified and will fit with the needs of the organization. The luxury of these long slates is a relic of the past and is not likely to return for most roles and functions.

Today, we often suggest teams be prepared to move forward with as few as three candidates. Once in a while we might even suggest moving ahead with one candidate if the requirements/skills are exceptionally unique.

To achieve this it is important that the hiring team, and if applicable the outside search firm, is highly coordinating and are prepared to move quickly and decisively through the interview, reference and offer process. Some large companies still have an interview and hiring approval process that takes months. Talent Acquisition teams must proactively articulate the need for decisiveness and speed to their executive stakeholders early and often to prevent losing great candidates for the most high-profile, hard to fill positions.

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7.  Keep Your Offers Competitive

Senior leaders expect a competitive offer that is reflective of their experience, expertise, and the market. In the current environment, leadership candidates are in an excellent bargaining position and companies would do well to think holistically about their offers. The modern leader is not solely focused on just the financial components of an offer like salary, incentive, and equity. These are critical, but leaders are also concerned about health benefits, retirement, work flexibility, paternity leave, working remotely, ongoing education/development opportunities, and the list goes on.

Because no leader is exactly alike, it is important to vet early and often a candidate’s motivations and expectations regarding compensation. Being straight-forward early in the process will ultimately save you and them time. If you do decide to make an offer, you will be in  a much better position to design a holistic offer that addresses their key motivators and dramatically improves the odds of an acceptance.

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8. Partner with an Executive Search Firm You Trust

The right search partner who can guide you through the recruitment process to ensure all of the above are thoughtfully crafted and carefully executed.  Look to partner with an executive search firm with experience in your industry with a proven track record of success. Our previous blog, How to Select the Right Executive Search Partner, can help you make an informed decision when looking at large and boutique search firms for your hiring needs.

Our team would love to support your next senior leadership search. During a short discussion, we can quickly assess whether our team has the experience and capacity to be successful. If for any reason it is not the right fit, we would be happy to refer you to a firm we know and trust.