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3 Secrets to Effective Executive Recruitment

Hiring an executive is different than hiring tactical line staff. Executives have a greater impact on the business, which means the consequences of a hiring mistake can be severe. Furthermore, the skill set required of an executive often goes beyond the normal qualifications and work experience you would typically see on a CV.

Executive skill sets can include:

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Setting Organisational Direction
  • Creating and Monitoring Performance Scorecards
  • Staff Leadership
  • Mentoring
  • Organisational Structuring or Restructuring
  • Instituting Best Practices
  • And much more…

As you can see, many of these skills are soft skills, which are difficult to assess using the typical CV-screening approach. A potential candidate may have a CV that looks good, but lack strategic thinking ability or emotional intelligence.

So how do you go about recruiting a top-performing executive?

1. Understand the essence of the role, rather than the tasks of the role.

In human resources we usually find role profiles being used to define job roles. Role profiles are a very useful way of documenting everything that a person must do in a job. They are usually highly detailed and complete.

Role profiles are then used to advertise the job to the market or through external recruitment firms. CVs received are matched to the role profile to see if the candidate is a match.

In theory this seems like a good approach, but there is just one very big problem.

When it comes down to the hiring, the line manager often makes the decision based on factors that are not in the CV—and sometimes not even in the role profile. So how do you match the right CV to the key requirements of the role?

The answer lies in the approach you use to assess the role.

When you ask most line managers what they want in a candidate, you typically find they give you a long list of traits. Sometimes this is a very long list that no living person could ever live up to. Then, when you find them actually hiring someone, you find that the person did not necessarily match all of the traits, yet they still hired them. Why is this?

Very simple, you asked the wrong questions when assessing the role. You need to understand that when people make decisions they typically only make them based on one or two key factors that are really important to them. The rest are nice-to-haves. The same goes for hiring. So the first question you must ask the line manager is:

What are the top three traits you would like this person to have? If you could only pick three things in this person, what would they be?

You will be surprised at the answer.

The second question you would ask them is:

What are the top-three goals you would like this person to achieve within the first 6–12 months in the role?

This question is powerful because it enables you to know what the person needs to be able to do in the job. This is the core skill set the candidate must possess to be effective. Remember that a skill set is subtly different than a job description. Many of the tasks indicated in a job description can be learnt very easily by the right person—provided they have the core skill set required. What we are seeking to understand is exactly what the core skillset for the role is. This question will give you that answer.

2. Use competency-based assessments

Once you understand the roles core skillset, you are ready to assess potential candidates for a match to the role. This is accomplished through competency-based questioning.

It is important to understand that competency-based questioning is different than the boilerplate, standardised questions often provided by third-party companies. These questions are often too vague, negatively framed, or do not match the competency you want to assess.

Instead, you need to look at each core skill and then determine a question that will assess the presence and level of that skill.

For instance, let’s say the competency is strategic analysis.

You wouldn’t ask a question like, Can you do strategic analysis? The candidate could just answer ‘Yes’ and you would be none the wiser.

You would be better off asking a thinking question like:

A new lower-cost competitor has entered your market. What do you do?

This is a great question because it tells you how the candidate thinks and how, he or she, goes about solving challenging problems.

Click here to read the 3rd secret to effective executive staff recruitment.