6 Tips That Will Help You Hire Top Executives Faster

November 23, 2015

As a retained executive search consultant who works with the world’s top supply chain and manufacturing leaders, Eric Herrenkohl gets asked the same question over and over again by business people: “How do you hire more A-level executives?”

After years of placing top tiered executives at companies like Nestle and New Balance, Herrenkohl has a lot of insights to share.

“The companies that have the best talent are not relying on Human Resource Departments to find them somebody,” says Herrenkohl, who also wrote the book, How to Hire A-Players“The leaders at the company are actively recruiting all the time," he says.

Here are his tips for hiring top executives:

1. The most senior leader in the organization must become a “recruiter in chief” and build recruiting into his or her job

People at companies tend to exhibit the same behavior that they see being modeled at the top, says Herrenkohl. “If you’re the CEO or head of an organization, you can’t expect others to start looking out for top talent unless you start cultivating that behavior yourself.”

Herrenkohl witnessed his first lesson about CEO involvement in recruiting while speaking to a group of mid-level engineers at an association conference, when he noticed one 55-year-old man in the group of 30-somethings. When Herrenkohl asked him why he was there, the man told him he owns an engineering firm and makes it a habit to stay on top of new talent, so he attends meetings regularly.

“It doesn’t mean that as CEOs and senior executives we should be doing all of the recruiting for our companies, because we don’t have time to do that,” says Herrenkohl, “but we need to set the pace so that we can have high expectations for our leaders that they’re going to do the same.”

2. Create your farm team (pipeline)

“In Major League Baseball, every team has a number of minor league teams where, if a player goes down in the big leagues, they can call somebody up the same day and have them on the field that night,” explains Herrenkohl. In the same way, you have to build a farm team for your own business.

There are two specific ways that farm teams work, says Herrenkohl. The first way is to have a list of people who aren’t employed by your company, but you see them as people who could work for you one day. “If you’re a leader in a Fortune 500 business, you can cultivate this group by getting involved in local associations and businesses, where there are people working for companies that are not as well known as yours.”

The second kind of farm team is internal, where you’re a big enough organization that you have people working in a subordinate role and they are the talent pool that you can dip into next.

“Either way, as a manager, you’ve got to be paying attention to your farm team,” he says. “It’s not enough just to focus on the people that you have in the roles today; you’ve got to think about who’s in the feeder system.”

3. Set a goal of interviewing two people per month

Anybody who is a manager or anyone actively hiring people as part of their job should make a goal of interviewing two people per month, whether they have hiring needs or not.

You have to build this practice into a habit, states Herrenkohl. Tell yourself “every month I’m going to make sure that either formally or informally, I’m meeting with a couple of new people, who potentially could come join my team either now or down the road.”

Herrenkohl worked with a kitchen countertop fabricator that instituted this rule to turn around their company. “They were doing business through a five-state region, but were having issues with employee turnover,” says Herrenkohl, “until the owner got sick of it and said, ‘We’re going to build a farm team, no matter what it takes.’ So he gave every manager a shared file and said, ‘Before our monthly staff meeting, I want you to add the names of two people you’ve interviewed. If you don’t add two names, don’t bother coming to the meeting’.” 

Depending on the size of your company, you may wind up interviewing people who won’t be available when you do need them down the road, But, Herrenkohl suggests that it’s better to keep up with developing a farm team than to be stuck without A-players.

4. Make getting face-to-face at senior levels a priority

Herrenkohl highly recommends having executives at senior levels meet in person with other executives that they’re trying to connect with. “While it’s a great start to connect with people on social media, people need to know, like, and trust you before they’re going to have career conversations with you at the higher levels,” he says.

“I think that there is a real default mode in our society, and in our business world, particularly, given all the technology that we have at our disposal, to have phone calls, to exchange emails, to exchange texts, to get connected, and think that now we’ve really got that person in our network,” Herrenkohl says.

If it’s become important to you to hire A-players at senior levels, it’s not going to cut it to only connect via technology, he says. “These senior people are receiving countless phone calls from recruiters. You’re not going to begin building a relationship with somebody you don’t know unless you figure out how to get face to face with them and begin to cultivate a relationship.”

5. Look for A-players who are not getting the development opportunities they want internally

When it comes to recruiting A-players, consider that no one you meet is out of reach, says Herrenkohl, even when they’re gainfully employed. “Let’s say you’ve met someone and they are a rock star at what they do and you’d love to hire them, but they aren’t interested because they have a great job already,” Herrenkohl says. “That does not mean that you should forget about that person forever. It just means that on that particular day that person wasn’t interested.”

Every day there are people in corporate America who are extraordinarily happy one day and incredibly disgruntled the next, because they didn’t get the opportunity that they thought they deserved, he explains. The more senior and savvier executives understand that the big job they have today can end any time. “This causes people at senior levels to be very open to building relationships,” he says, “because they just never know what’s going to happen.”

6. Find good people at struggling companies

“When good companies get in trouble, or even when average companies get in trouble, the best people in those companies become open to hearing about other opportunities,” says Herrenkohl. “We want to be paying attention to the best talent in companies that are not doing well, because those folks are going to be more open to listening to us.”

Most senior executives already read the Wall Street Journal and they know what’s going on in their industry. But they need to start paying attention to the news for its recruiting implications, suggests Herrenkohl. “In addition to thinking about how a company’s performance may affect your market share, make sure to go back to being recruiter-in-chief and pay attention to what kind of great talent those kinds of poor performance events may shake loose.”

*Image from TechCrunch

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.