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The Executive Recruitment Process: How to Recruit Well

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Effective executive recruitment goes beyond identifying and pursuing top-level performers to fill a vacancy. After all, a track record of success should be table stakes for openings at your organization’s highest levels. Qualified candidates must not only stand to make valuable contributions to your executive team but also espouse personal beliefs that make them a natural cultural fit for your organization.

This mindset ensures that your hiring process - which already requires substantial time and effort - produces candidates who will stay for the long run. You don’t want to have to run your employment search all over again a few quarters down the road, so it’s important to think of each new hire as a strategic investment in your company's future.

Whether or not your organization chooses to outsource recruiting efforts when looking to fill executive or leadership positions, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the executive recruitment process. The best individuals for these high-level positions are often already happily and gainfully employed as directors and vice presidents at other companies, so knowing the key steps and best practices for hiring executives is crucial for a successful outcome.

Standard Executive Recruitment Process Overview

The standard executive search process follows the general contours of this four-step roadmap.

Review the Job Description

Any successful recruitment endeavor starts with a thorough job description. Don’t just recycle what you have on file: review the current description and determine whether everything is still relevant. This stage should also include a deep dive into the ideal candidate's specific skill sets, with all relevant stakeholders confirming their understanding of the role’s scope of responsibilities and goals.

Source Potential Candidates

Many top-level candidates are already gainfully employed in executive roles. Because they’re not actively looking for new work, these "passive candidates" can be challenging to find. Approaching them requires tact, delicacy, and good instincts. Tapping connections via networks like LinkedIn and leveraging word-of-mouth referrals are essential strategies for convincing these individuals to consider new opportunities.

Conduct Outreach & Assessments

Once you’ve identified potential candidates, you’ll need to make contact and spark their interest in an opportunity that wasn't on their radar. Your company must present an authentic view of itself during this process. At the same time, you’ll need to complete a comprehensive assessment of candidates’ fitness for the role and alignment with the organization's vision before moving your most qualified candidates to a final review.

Reach a Hiring Decision

From your pool of potential hires, identify your ideal candidate by evaluating their experience, skill set, capabilities, passion, and cultural fit, then extend an offer. Remember, you’ll likely be trying to convince your candidate to leave an existing role, so expect some negotiations around salary or other compensation requirements at this point. The executive search process formally concludes once the candidate accepts your offer, and onboarding can begin.

Filling executive-level roles can be a significant challenge for in-house hiring teams; however, this isn’t a reflection of their capability. Tasked with placing candidates at all levels of the organization, these employees are already spread thin, diluting the intense focus and nuanced approach required for:

  • Effectively sourcing candidates
  • Developing candidates’ interest in new roles
  • Ensuring long-term placements through proper onboarding

Working with executive recruitment agencies offers a strategic advantage. With specialized expertise and recruitment strategies honed over decades of professional experience, these firms can develop compelling job descriptions, quickly source quality candidates, and tactfully approach passive candidates. By leveraging an agency partnership, in-house hiring teams and other stakeholders can feel empowered and confident in their decision-making, especially when it comes to high-stakes hires.

Although many companies choose to engage an executive recruitment agency for top-tier openings, you can also develop your own strategic plan for executive recruitment by following the steps below.

How to Recruit Executives Strategically

It's important to have an executive recruitment strategy that follows a tried-and-true methodology for successful executive recruiting. During this process, you'll identify and evaluate top talent, establish rapport, verify qualifications, create interest, and then extend an offer.

Identify & Evaluate Top Talent

Identifying and evaluating top talent is one of the most difficult parts of the entire recruitment process. It demands a strategic blend of insight, precision, and foresight, but getting it right can help you onboard the kind of leaders who can propel your organization forward.

Here’s how to make it happen:

  • Determine Qualities of Ideal Candidates: Craft a detailed candidate profile that goes beyond the job description. Consider what mix of hard and soft skills, experience, competencies, knowledge, and personal beliefs this person will need to ensure a match that resonates with the organization's core values and future goals.
  • Identify Potential Candidates: Finding qualified passive candidates - people not actively seeking a new opportunity but well-suited to the role you need to fill - requires a robust search strategy and a smart outreach plan to tap into talent that’s often beyond the reach of traditional recruitment methods. Word-of-mouth referrals are essential at the executive level, but you can also build a suitable list of candidates by leveraging connections or browsing user profiles on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
  • Screen and Assess Candidates: Once your ideal candidates have been identified, perform due diligence to ensure they’re really a good fit for the role. Evaluate them against your comprehensive candidate profile through focused interviews, high-level conversations, and detailed research.

Navigating these steps can be a challenge for even the most capable in-house HR teams, let alone recruitment teams already stretched to the breaking point trying to meet the day-to-day requirements of their role while placing candidates at other levels of the organization. It’s also hard to overstate the importance of properly identifying and evaluating executive talent.

Put another way: a poor product manager placement might hamper progress toward KPIs in one division, but the wrong CEO or CFO could spell disaster for the company itself.

Many companies find that executive search firm costs are a justifiable investment to hedge against these risks. By engaging an executive search firm, these companies preserve precious time that their HR team can devote to other duties. They can also feel assured of a high-quality, properly executed search - not to mention an enduring placement.

Establish Rapport & Verify Qualifications

While a standard series of interviews can work well for low-level hires, recruiting efforts for senior executives are distinguished by the premium placed on forming a genuine connection with the right candidate. Recruiters must build trust and establish rapport, typically by engaging in a series of detailed conversations over several weeks (if not longer).

A key focus of these in-depth discussions is to ensure a mutual understanding of the prospect’s career goals and gauge them against the requirements in your detailed job description and the organization’s overall strategy. It's a deliberate process that aims to confirm the professional fit and the personal and cultural compatibility between the candidate and the organization.

You should also use these conversations to confirm the candidate’s track record by asking for specific, detailed experiences. As your discussions continue, verify candidates’ answers through careful, behind-the-scenes research. If you’re working with an executive search firm, count on them to take care of this time-intensive process on your behalf, ensuring that the candidates’ capabilities and achievements are not just impressive on paper but substantiated by real-world results.

Outline the Opportunity & Create Interest

Once you’ve identified your ideal candidate, you need to present a compelling argument on what sets this opportunity apart. A generous salary is often alluring, but for people considering executive positions, compensation may not be the sole deciding factor. Your discussion should also detail the direct impact their leadership and decisions will have on the company’s trajectory, the role’s prestige and visibility within the broader industry, or the opportunity to lead transformative projects and leave a lasting legacy.

Cultural fit, company culture, and future opportunities at your organization will also be central considerations for your candidates. Alignment with these qualities is essential for fostering a deep sense of belonging and motivation and positioning the opportunity as a pivotal career milestone rather than just another job.

It's all about painting a picture of an organizational journey that matches their personal and professional growth goals. If you’re working with an executive search firm, they can help you determine which company characteristics are your greatest assets during this process.

Once your candidates have been qualified and vetted and you’ve confirmed their interest, you can move them into the final stages of review, decision-making, and approval.

Review Candidates & Extend an Offer

It’s time to make your hiring decision. Executive search firms typically present the best candidates on an ongoing basis for immediate consideration, rather than waiting to form an entire group of interested candidates. This ensures the process is respectful of everyone’s time.

The experienced team at TDS Global Solutions facilitates the executive search process with a transparent candidate dashboard. Key stakeholders, including the hiring manager and leadership team, can leverage this tool for real-time access to prospective candidates' detailed profiles, CVs, salary expectations, and other pertinent documents.

If you’ve been following an internal process, now is the time to select a candidate from your short list and make an offer. At this point, you should have a good idea of what will best entice your preferred candidate, but it’s not unusual for additional negotiations over details to occur at this stage.

These negotiations are another area where a recruitment agency can add value. By presenting an offer on your behalf to the top-choice candidate, the agency can act as an intermediary during the executive salary negotiation process to ensure that the final compensation package reflects the best interests of both the candidate and the company, paving the way for a successful and long-lasting placement.

Assist in New Hire Onboarding

A robust onboarding process should begin well before the new hire's first day, but the transition from candidate to executive team member is often undervalued or sidelined entirely, especially when internal teams have to juggle multiple new hires.

Executive recruitment agencies often provide new hires with learning materials, onboarding documents, and essential company information in advance, setting the stage for their success from day one. Agencies will also check in after placement to help work through any hiccups and confirm that the new employee, the hiring manager, and the company are happy with the result.

By ensuring the new hire feels supported and well-informed, agencies facilitate a positive start in their new role. A smooth transition contributes significantly to the satisfaction and productivity of the new executive, laying the groundwork for their long-term contribution to the company's success.

Using an Executive Search Firm for Recruitment

Unlike traditional hiring processes, recruiting for executive roles requires companies to actively seek candidates rather than sifting through incoming applications. However, for many in-house HR teams, the broad scope of their day-to-day responsibilities limits their ability to complete an exhaustive search for the ideal candidate - let alone fully develop the specialized expertise required for successful executive placements.

In contrast, retained executive search firms are singularly focused on recruitment and equipped with the skills, experience, and deft touch needed to attract the best talent for top-tier positions. These agencies also leverage extensive reach and relationships within their industries of specialization to directly connect with top executives or secure referrals from industry insiders. These capabilities are essential in identifying and engaging with candidates who are not just qualified but perfectly matched to your organization's needs and culture.

TDS Global Solutions goes beyond the traditional scope of executive talent acquisition services, offering comprehensive support where other executive search firms may fall short. We can:

  • Help you find senior-level managers, directors, VPs, and C-Suite candidates
  • Leverage our extensive industry network to produce high-quality candidate referrals
  • Conduct thorough background checks
  • Assist with the entire recruiting process, from search to offer negotiations and new hire onboarding
  • Provide an organized, easy-to-use dashboard that details candidates’ information and positions in the hiring process

The TDS Global Solutions team has over 30 years of experience and has placed over 1,000 highly productive executives across six continents. We can work independently, on a retainer, or as an executive search partner for your in-house search team to ensure a smooth, fully integrated hiring process.

Contact us today to discuss your current hiring needs and get your executive roles filled quickly.

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