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Hiring an Executive? 4 Things to Consider before the Search

Hiring for an executive-level role in today’s economic environment is beyond challenging. Whether you call it a black swan event or a paradigm shift, we have transitioned abruptly to a new reality. But chaos breeds opportunity, and innovative teams who leverage today’s talent shortage as a competitive advantage will dominate tomorrow. One way is to work with an executive recruitment partner with a proven, turnkey hiring process, a track record of measurable success, and a real-time perspective on rapidly changing market conditions.

Having delivered exceptional executive hires for over 40 years, Cochran, Cochran & Yale has made a science of executive recruiting. It’s a long and delicate process with far-reaching implications, but we can distill the keys to success into a few essential insights.

This blog post will let you in on one. This thing is front-loaded.

Your post-hire outcomes will hinge largely on the foundation you build before the search begins.

1) Align OR get in line.
Don’t make decisions in a vacuum

Nothing sabotages an executive search or turns off potential executive candidates faster than a misaligned leadership team. Cohesion (or lack thereof) has the power to send you in search of the wrong hire and render your organization a fallback option instead of a “top choice” employer. And truly qualified candidates will have no shortage of options.

Strategic alignment is the foundation upon which you’ll build your search. Before you source candidates or share a job description, gathering all executive stakeholders and personnel who will have significant exposure to the incoming candidate is imperative. Your directive is to achieve cohesion among this group of decision-makers around the purpose of the hire.

Depending on the size of your organization, this may be a small group or a large team. Regardless, this is a moment to encourage comprehensive input and perspective. Bring as eclectic diversity of thought and perspective to the table as possible. Before you can determine an accurate profile of the ‘right’ candidate, you must be a united front, fully committed to the search and sharing clear expectations of both the process and the outcome.

This vital exercise will not only yield critical insights; it also activates stakeholders, engaging them in a healthy discussion in which they are heard and valued. There’s no one-size-fits-all handbook for a CEO hiring a new CFO. Your leadership team must take the search out of a vacuum to align your team’s perspective of the role and ensure their alignment to the mission and strategic priorities of the organization.

By engineering alignment around a deep understanding of how the incoming individual will impact the current and future states of the organization, you will optimize both the opportunity presented by the vacancy and the ROI of your executive talent investment.

Pro tip: This is an editing process. If you come in with a job description, use it as a starting point for conversation, then throw it in the trash. You’ll have plenty of time for on-paper skills and responsibilities later in your search.

2) Understand your brand.
What’s your (perceived) story?

Want a leg up in the talent competition? Get serious about your Employer Brand.

It’s a common miss, particularly in the search for c-suite executives. Companies are apt to dismiss public perception, believing it’s irrelevant to well-aligned executive candidates.

Guess what. It’s not.

Every moment of a change agent’s career is an opportunity to be leveraged for maximum personal enrichment, which takes many forms and is unique to the individual. Executives seeking continued advancement understand the impact of where they’ve been and where they can go. They know that leadership teams avoid specific organizations and won’t consider their former employees. Employers are all too quick to read a lack of feedback on their public perception as a lack of need for improvement. However, they’ll never gain the input of the potential executive candidates who’ve decided preemptively to eliminate their companies from consideration.

In addition, a steadily growing number of executives (hello, millennials) place top priority on purpose, mission, and opportunity for growth. They need employers who walk the talk, and their evaluation of this variable relies on aggregate data.

Organizations must be ready to devote appropriate resources to assessing and addressing their complete digital footprint, including emerging channels. We’re talking Google, Glassdoor, Fishbowl, Reddit, Indeed, your website, and online reviews posted by alumni, current employees, and clients. Are you thinking about Telegram? Voices on every platform tell a story about your organization to potential Executives. Lower-level employees care about comp, benefits, PTO, and workplace conditions. Executives care about the aggregate; how is your company perceived in the community that matters to them?

Emotions drive decisions. View your brand through the eyes of a transitioning executive. You need to understand how your public profile makes people feel. See an issue? Valid or otherwise, prepare your team for meaningful answers to questions about your organization’s weaknesses — real and perceived. The presence of negative chatter is not only inevitable; it conveys authenticity to potential candidates. A spotless online profile raises suspicion, and appearing perfect encourages doubt in your transparency.

Instead of trying to eliminate negative perspectives, find points that demonstrate your strengths. Social proof is a powerful force. Showcase and leverage this information and try to view it objectively.

Ownership of your employer brand among stakeholders bridges the gap between perception and reality as you engage with prospective candidates. Regardless of the digital results, you will need to be prepared to tell a compelling story to all potential candidates as to why they should trust and believe in you, your organization, and your mission.

3) Expand your understanding of “Fit”.

50% of executive hires fail within the first 18 months. The primary driver? Failure to integrate the new hire with the culture and dynamic of the organization.

And we’re back to alignment.

First, you must understand that “fit” is far more than qualifications and stated values. It’s about skills, not responsibilities. It’s getting honest about your team dynamics and refusing to settle for less than a genuine culture fit. It’s finding an individual with the proven experience to advance your organization’s strategic objectives. And it’s about flexing your compensation package to deliver whatever is most motivating to this executive leader.

Before you can assess candidates for fit, you’ll need to know your company culture. That means asking for feedback from everyone your organization touches. Your leadership team must get on the same page about all nature of must-haves and deal-breakers. And you’ll need to design your interview process, your comp negotiations, your on-site/remote/hybrid demands, and the unwavering KPIs for the c-suite role.

4) Experience matters.
Every experience.

Are you getting the message that alignment isn’t about you?

The candidate experience has an outsized influence on your executive hiring outcomes. It’s crucial that you do not waste candidates’ time and that they always feel respected. It would help if you struck a delicate balance avoiding over-confidence but having your ducks in an unwavering row. It would help if you projected readiness, clarity, and decisiveness.

Forget four interviews and a sample project. No qualified executive candidate should write your marketing plan for free. Recruiting high-impact senior executives requires comprehensive preparation. You must know what information you must obtain and be ready with the assessment tools to evaluate the characteristics and capabilities that will achieve the purpose of the role.

Here’s a primer. Determine your selection committee at the outset and create accountability for each individual’s essential contributions to the search.

Document your process, which must be uniform across all candidates. It should require no more than three steps for the candidate.

Also, document a timeline and share it with everyone involved in the search, from the CEO to hiring managers, recruitment partners, candidates, and the team the role will serve.

Establish expectations, clarity, and alignment on offer negotiations and communication. Your first offer should be inclusive of or open to absolutely everything. You cannot wait until the negotiation phase to identify a candidate’s motivating drivers because you can’t afford declined offers. Your questioning and research will extract this information throughout the interview process.

Pro Tip: EVERY candidate’s engagement with your organization impacts your employer brand. That includes not just finalists you’re courting but also eliminated candidates and potential talent viewing your recruitment marketing efforts—every individual’s interaction with your company matters.

Are you ready for a qualified talent partner?

While filling a vacancy is both essential and urgent, it’s just one goal of strategic executive recruitment. The more meaningful outcome is the cohesive integration of a precisely aligned executive into your existing leadership team — an executive hire that not only gets up to speed but propels your pursuit of ambitious organizational goals.

Preparing to execute effective executive hiring is a heavy lift. It demands extensive resources and involves tremendous risk. One way to ensure you place the right executive in the vacancy is to find a recruitment partner qualified to lead your organization efficiently through every search stage. Cochran, Cochran, and Yale bring to hiring teams an investigative and intelligence-driven executive hiring process with 40 years of proven results. We’ve guided clients through navigating numerous black swan events and multiple recessions. Our highly directive process takes the onus off of senior executives to engineer talent acquisition and devotes their valuable time and bandwidth to the most useful elements of the search.