Best Practices for Senior-Level Hiring

September 27, 2018

“Senior-level” management positions are those that belong at the top of the company hierarchy. Often, these are called “C-level” positions; the “C” stands for chief, which frequently forms the initial element in these job titles—e.g., chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief information officer (CIO), chief analytics officer (CAO), chief technology officer (CTO), and so on. It goes without saying that these positions are the most important in any organization, and it is essential to ensure that they are filled by highly competent individuals. Yet many organizations aren’t certain how to handle the all-important task of locating suitable candidates and extending an offer. Should they promote an existing employee, or conduct an external search? How much time should a candidate search take? Who should be involved in the hiring decision?

These are not questions to be taken lightly. Far too many organizations have come to regret entrusting senior-level positions, and their associated responsibilities, to individuals whose skills and temperament were not up to the task. The consequences of hiring a “bad fit” can be even more damaging and wide-ranging than you would expect, such as in wasted money, battered company morale, and lost productivity. Problems at the top of a company have a tendency to filter down through the ranks, wreaking havoc across all levels of the organization. To help with the search process, many companies elect to hire the services of a professional recruiter to locate available senior-level executives. With these considerations in mind, let’s explore the senior-level hiring process in greater detail.

Understand Your Hiring Requirements

You can’t hire the right executive unless you know which skills they should be able to bring with them. You should undergo a comprehensive analysis of the abilities necessary to perform the job requirements in an optimal fashion. In some cases, these skills are more or less the same ones that the new hire’s predecessor depended on to carry out relevant job functions—but keep in mind that this will not always be the case. Due to company expansion, shifting trends in the industry, or other factors, the position may demand capabilities that the previous executive did not need or possess. In addition, your executive search may highlight desired qualities of which you may not have been aware before; this is not uncommon, and it may be necessary to reframe your requirements as you interview candidates.

Articulate Your Hiring Requirements

We’ve established that it’s best to come to an understanding of an ideal executive—but this isn’t enough. Too many companies expect to simply pick out the best candidates as they come, but what they don’t realize is that their dream executive may never come through the doorway. You need to be able to communicate your sought-after qualities beforehand, not merely consult the executive during the judging process. One reason why it’s best to conceptualize the qualities of a model candidate at the outset is that it enables you to better articulate your requirements to others over the course of the job search. This is especially important when you hire a recruiter to locate suitable candidates—it helps them find the candidates that fit your specifications, which will save time and money that might otherwise be devoted to running down blind alleys. If there are no available candidates that fit your specs—which usually necessitates reframing the job requirements—the recruiter will be able to tell you. This isn’t possible if they haven’t been made fully aware of your needs.

business men and women

Ideally, the whole team should be involved in the search and decision-making process for hiring a senior-level executive. In fact, it may be best to form an in-house committee dedicated to this purpose. Invite ideas and feedback from different personnel; this will help ensure that you’ve “covered the bases” properly.

If your company has resolved to hire externally for an important position, it’s vital to articulate to the rest of the staff why it isn’t possible to simply promote from within. In many cases, a required skill-set isn’t represented in the current staff, or the growth of the company calls for executives with experience outside the purview of existing employees. Failure to consult with the staff may damage company morale.

Another advantage of involving the whole team is the ability to present a united front when conducting negotiations with qualified candidates. If the candidate will be speaking with multiple individuals prior to receiving a job offer—and this is very often the case—it can be disastrous if the interviewers communicate contradictory information to the interviewee. Among other things, this tells the applicant that your company is disorganized and inefficient.  

Be Aware of What Constitutes a “Good Fit” for the Company

It’s not always easy to figure out what concrete skills and experience a candidate should be able to bring to the company, but it’s even harder to get a grasp on those nebulous qualities that enable an executive to fit in with a company’s culture. How does the candidate communicate with others? Are they autocratic, or willing to listen to alternative viewpoints? A candidate whose communication style doesn’t complement the current culture may cause problems for the company, even if their resume indicates no shortage of experience or expertise. Again, these are concerns that should be communicated to any  recruiter assigned to locate a candidate for you.

Don’t Delay in Making an Offer

It’s certainly true that haste makes waste, and no-one wants to get stuck with a senior-level executive who isn’t up to the task. But it’s important to keep in mind that a highly qualified candidate may be fielding offers from competitors as well. Try to conduct the interviews within a reasonably compressed time-frame—this will allow the hiring team to compare and contrast the candidates’ qualities while memories are still vivid.

Establish the Onboarding Procedure

Will the company provide relocation services? What responsibilities will the new executive be expected to manage in the early stages of their employment? How do you plan to introduce them to the rest of the team? Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out these matters—a poor onboarding experience may sour your company’s relationship with the executive at the outset.

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