Sourcing Tips From Top Executive Recruiters

November 3, 2015

Imagine that you’ve been tasked with finding the next CEO for a visible Silicon Valley Startup or Fortune 500 Bank. How would you get started in finding this person?

Most recruiters would agree that it's not easy. Executive hires are an extremely rare breed – you have to find a person with the right combination of experience, education, technical expertise, communication capabilities, and strong personal networks. And then, you need to convince this person to consider leaving an established position for a new, unknown role.

In the executive recruiting world, success begins with building your talent pipeline. Here are some tips that executive recruiters have discovered, battle-tested, and implemented.

1. Conduct a thorough, 360-degree review

Tip from Chavaz K., Corporate Trainer, Executive Consultant, Author, and CEO.

In other words, find out what everyone is saying about the candidate. Chavaz shared an amusing anecdote about when he realized just how important doing this is:

“My parking used to be atrocious, so when an executive recruiter had a job lined up for me and was asked to contact some of my previous staff, she was told, ‘Chavaz is by far the best boss I have ever had, but he just cannot park a car!’”

This made Chavaz recognize that "it’s not just about checking references, it’s about listening - and more importantly hearing - what executives’ references say about them.”

Talk to former employees. Talk to direct reports of the candidates’ direct reports. Observe your candidate’s behavior on social media and in the blogosphere. Look for reviews in unconventional places, and listen to stories. And sometimes, you have to read in-between-the-lines.

“Now that I myself consult companies on their executive recruiting, one of the first things I look for is what was demonstrated by one of my own previous employees,” says Chavaz. “I ask the following question: Does the previous work history and references clearly show an executive who is relatable, hard working, and whose staff/references feel comfortable when speaking about this executive?”

2. Analyze the candidate’s public presence

Tip from Jennifer Folsom, Senior Manager of Human Capital and Branding at Summit Consulting.

“For anyone with 15+ years of professional experience, we are looking for thought leaders,” says Folsom. “Many thought leaders have active twitter profiles with lots of followers and high engagement and they publish blog posts on LinkedIn." That shows clear influence. 

However, it’s also important to remember that leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Many introverts make great CEOs, for instance, but may only publish blog posts, participate in interviews, or speak at conferences a few times a year.

That's why it's important to pay attention to the ideas that the candidate is presenting, in addition to the passion behind his or her delivery. Look for signs of a person who enjoys what he or she does, can remain calm when facing uncertainty and can inspire others.

These are the people you need in your long-term candidate pipeline. Look for thought leaders ‘behind the scenes’ too.

3. Identify early points of friction

Tip from Kerry Van Voris, Dircetor of Talent at Madrona Venture Group.

Sometimes, you meet someone who you think is the perfect candidate, but something just doesn’t feel right. Maybe she’s missing the mark on key business questions. Maybe he’s rubbing your team members the wrong way. Who knows what it is, but there’s something.

Make sure to pay attention to your gut, and monitor early warning signs of a mismatch.

“If it’s too hard to get someone in the door, and you’re hitting obstacles at every turn, then it’s probably not the right hire,” says Van Voris. “It was my first executive hire, and I was determined to close him. Once the team and I had decided that “he was the one” for the job, I started to problem solve the multitude of known issues standing in the way of him and a start date.

Then, there was the non-compete (which, given my naivety, I didn’t get in front of before the compensation details of the offer were discussed). After engaging numerous attorneys on his end, we finally got to an agreement on the non-compete. In the elapsed time though, his significant other had received a large promotion and could no longer relocate. So, we were back at square one."

Being an executive is tough, and you need to find a candidate who will commit wholly to working with your company.

“If someone really wants the job, he or she will move mountains (and families) to take it,” says Van Voris. “Know when to give up and pull the offer.”

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