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The Executive Search and Hiring Process

Posted by Bob Corlett on October 7, 2017

As it turns out, creating the perfect hiring process is fairly difficult. Who knew? For more than ten years, we've been on a quest to bring you the most useful tools for every kind of hiring situation, and for every stage of the hiring process.

In this post we share our best thinking on the executive search and hiring process. Whether your search was caused by a performance problem, employee turnover, or a planned succession due to a retirement, there are common questions most people have and common mistakes most people make (like waiting too long to fire someone who is not delivering results.)   

What Executive Recruiters Know

At its heart, hiring is an exercise in risk management. You are always locked in competition with other employers, and just as you are assessing the risk of hiring someone, the candidate is assessing the risk to their career from being hired by you.

Hopefully we can help you be more successful by sharing what we've learned. Here are 26 articles to help guide you.

For CEO Searches When a Search Committee Is Involved

1) What should be included in a CEO succession plan? 

After working hard for many years, CEOs certainly don’t want to leave their legacy up to chanceWith some advance planning, search committees can avoid common pitfalls in the CEO selection process, understand what factors to consider, and dramatically reduce their risk of making a hiring mistake.

2) Why do CEO-level searches take so long?

In a typical CEO or Executive Director search, the hiring process can take 4-8 months. But just where does all that (elapsed) time go? 

3) A checklist for the search committee chair

The chair of the search committee is often leading a search for the first time. What are all the things to keep in mind for a successful search?

Working With an Executive Search Firm

4) What do executive search firms charge? 

Who pays the fees, when are they due, what services are delivered, and what guarantees are in place?

5) When is it worth it to engage an executive search firm? 

Great hiring practices bring hidden issues to light, and provide insight into questions you had not even thought to ask. But most typical hiring practices do the opposite, ignoring more information than they gather, and leaving your hiring decision up to chance. This “insight gap” is what makes an executive search firm worth their fee. It's what justifies the cost of any professional services firm.

6) A checklist to evaluate and compare executive search firms 

Most buyers ask few questions beyond the 5 minutes of, "Have you done this before, how much will it cost, and how long will it take?" I suggest that you ask a few more questions which will help you ensure you have selected the right partner for your search needs.

7) How to negotiate executive search firm contracts (and what everyone forgets)

The biggest mistake most people make in negotiating executive search firm contracts is a focus solely on the outcome instead of the hiring process. In hiring, your goal is not to merely hire someone qualified; your goal is to hire a top performer. So your contracts need to reflect that.

8) How to justify using an executive search firm to the board

From time to time, you need to make a key hire to achieve your nonprofit's mission, and that sometimes requires the services of an executive search firm who specializes in nonprofit executive placement. But when you don’t have a budget allocation for search fees, how will you make your case to the board? 

9) Contingency vs Retained Executive Search Firms

In selecting a search firm, it's wise to look first at their track record and their understanding of your business needs. But then, when you start comparing search firms, you will see a broad array of business models. Which is best for you?

"Typical hiring practices ignore more information than they gather, leaving your hiring decision up to chance." (Click to Tweet)

Hiring On Your Own

10) How to write job descriptions that attract top performers 

A great job ad tells a story. We humans respond to stories, almost instinctively. The most persuasive narratives move people into action (you want the great people to actually apply). 

11) How to conduct job interviews so top performers actually want your job

At its heart, hiring is an exercise in risk management. In hiring, you are always locked in competition with other employers. As you are assessing the risk of hiring someone, the candidate is simultaneously assessing the risk to their career from being hired by you. And just as you are evaluating multiple candidates, the candidates are often assessing multiple employment options. 

12) How to avoid groupthink in the hiring process

An "insider" group of employees will often share  condescending views of "outsiders." This is an attempt to reinforce their own insider status. It does not help your organization make better hiring decisions.

13) What are the best ways to lower hiring risk and hire better people?

Hiring is the single most important yet single most difficult task for executives. Few responsibilities are so potentially destructive, so hard to predict, or fraught with so much ambiguity and uncertainty. Even in the best organizations, hiring failures wreak havoc on business plans.

14) How to fill multiple job openings simultaneously

When you have multiple open positions, should you a) hire the most senior position first and then allow your new executive to select their team? Or b) fill the jobs at the same time (recognizing that the lower level positions will probably be filled more quickly and will be complete in advance of the new executive’s arrival)?

15) How to make the hiring process more personal

Whether you are the hiring manager or the candidate being interviewed, hiring is personal, now more than ever. Candidate behavior has changed more in the past 5 years than at any time in the past 30 years, but few employers have updated their hiring practices. This creates some real challenges on both sides of the interview desk, and more than a few opportunities to gain a real competitive advantage.

16) The outsized effect of employer reputation in the hiring process

The problem with judging a candidate based on their current employer (relying on employer reputation in hiring) is the same risk of relying on any generalization. It reduces your curiosity about the individual under consideration.

17) How to hire rockstar employees and avoid the pretenders

Although most people trust their own assessments of candidates, extensive research shows that we’re just not that good at it. We give too much credit to the individual and not enough credit to the work environment.

18) How to negotiate salary like a compensation professional

Salary negotiations with top performers are a pivotal time in the hiring process. As an employer, it’s easy to forget that the candidate is not yet one of your employees. You can create or destroy trust, and set the tone for your entire employment relationship by how skillfully you negotiate salary.

19) What are the 10 signs of a failing hiring process?

A hiring process does not fail suddenly and for completely mysterious reasons. Most searches fail for fairly predictable reasons, with quite a few warning signs along the way. Or, as Ernest Hemingway put it in The Sun Also Rises: "How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked. "Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually and then suddenly."

20) What hiring metrics are most effective?

Intelligent metrics help you improve performance and allocate resources more wisely. Ideally, they help make your processes more predictable. Before I got into recruiting, I worked for many years as a systems engineer (or more ponderously, "business process reengineering consultant"). I quickly learned that, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts."

21) How to hire within your salary budget

As a manager, you have the financial responsibility to hire the very best person you can, given the salary budget you have. But sometimes you can't find the person you want to hire within your salary budget. What do you do then?

22) What role should pre-employment testing have in the hiring process?

Most people assume I'm a fan of pre-employment testing because it just sounds so scientific and process oriented. Except in my experience, most small organizations are actually harmed by their pre-employment assessments. Rather than improving hiring results, the testing actually gets in the way.

23) How Glassdoor reviews affect recruiting

In a small organization, particularly one where the CEO reports to a board of directors, online reviews get real personal, real fast. And the sudden onset of public accountability can give executives a severe case of Glassdoor Angst.

24) What's the single best thing you can do for your hiring process?

In one of my first blog posts I advocate for scheduling your hiring process just like you would schedule any other process. 

25) Which employee selection methods are best at predicting job performance?

Skilled researchers pored through 85 years of scientific literature to identify which employee selection methods were the best predictors of job performance. 85 years of research, distilled down into one set of findings. So of the 19 methods studied, which ones were the best? 

26) How to decide if you should conduct the executive search on your own

When your ideal candidates might be connected to you in some way, there are a few issues you may wish to consider before launching the search on your own. 


Hopefully this was helpful to you.

Now that we've shared our best insights (gleaned from over 600 completed searches) into how to make a predictably successful hiring process, maybe you would like to take a self-assessment to see how your own process stacks up?

In 2 minutes you can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your own hiring process, right in the privacy of your own office. 

The Results-Based Hiring Scorecard

This is just the tip of the hiring iceberg. Our Resource Center has additional topics you might find helpful. 

And one final disclaimer: This advice is primarily for professional hiring in a large metropolitan area. Our perspective is shaped by our work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We've completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, but not all of our advice will be relevant if you are recruiting for other types of positions in other job markets. 

Topics: Human Resources, Performance Management, Interviewing Executives, Association Management, Nonprofit Management, Employer Reputation, Executive Search, CEO search, Negotiating Salary for New Hires