Executive Coaching
5 Key Tenets Of Finding And Hiring The Best Senior Talent

Hiring the best senior talent is crucial for any company. But identifying and engaging the right candidates is not always easy, even for large and successful brands. Increasingly, leading organisations across all industries are moving away from traditional executive search to new methods of finding their senior and executive talent.

Direct sourcing, where a company will approach a candidate without an intermediary, is common practice, and many organisations have built strong headhunting teams to identify and approach the right talent. But for every skilled internal headhunting team, there are lots of talent acquisition teams that are under-resourced and are trying to find the best senior leaders as part of a broader remit, with a limited knowledge of executive search and without using third-party support.

As a hiring manager or company leader, you need to know how to work with the resources at your disposal to find the best talent and attract them to your organisation – here are five key principles to help ensure a smooth and successful hiring process.

1. Invest time upfront to define success

Searches most often go wrong right at the beginning. As a hiring manager you have have limited time and want to fill a crucial role as quickly as possible. Because of this, it can be tempting to quickly draft a job description and send your talent acquisition partners out into the market without further details.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a limited understanding of the nuances of what the ideal candidate looks like. Not allocating the right time at the start to work through a comprehensive list of required skills, experience and cultural attributes might mean missing an integral skill that the right person needs to have to be relevant for the position.

Rather than searching generically for a ‘CEO’ in a relevant market, it’s better to specify you’re looking for a CEO who has ‘experience fuelling growth through data monetisation’, or a CMO with ‘deep knowledge of digital advertising platforms’ or a CTO ‘with an extensive background in cloud and devops’. The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that the right candidate can be found without wasting time and resource.

Understand the top three to five things that a candidate has to have done in the past to be relevant and build a picture of what you would be willing to compromise on for the right person.

Investing this time upfront means setting yourself up for a quicker and more successful search process.

2. Maintain a constant flow of communication

Agreeing on the required profile is only the start of the process for a hiring manager. Even with the best of briefings, things can get lost in translation between you as the hiring manager and the talent acquisition or headhunting teams.

It’s important to keep the dialogue open throughout the process. Requesting regular updates and getting feedback – both positive and negative – can help in a number of ways. Often, the candidates might have questions or concerns about the role or the organisation that only you can answer – you need to be available to provide these answers to keep that person engaged. Often, those with the most questions and concerns are some of the best candidates.

Keeping the lines of communication open means you can be reactive to the market and adjust the profile and requirements of the role if, for instance, the experience required is too specific to find a high-quality group of potential candidates. Being responsive allows you to maximise your chances of attracting the highest caliber candidates and adjust your expectations accordingly, when necessary.

3. Understand it is a two-way street

One benefit of being in regular communication with whoever is running the process is understanding how candidates are feeling about the opportunity. Especially at a senior level, the vast percentage of the candidates engaged in the process will already be happy where they are. The chances are they will already be challenged, fulfilled and well-compensated.

While your team and company may be amazing, you can’t lose sight of the fact that the best talent available for your open role may already have a brilliant job and career. Therefore, it is important to treat the interview process at all stages as a two-way street – you are selling as much as you are assessing.

Always make time to answer the candidate’s questions, or respond to them in a timely fashion at a later date as agreed. Make sure the value proposition is clear and that they know where can they go with their career in this role, how they can grow, what will be on the agenda for them that they haven’t had a chance to do before.

Securing a great candidate doesn’t start once you have decided to offer someone the job, but from the first time you engage them.

4. Drive pace and urgency in the closing process

Although you are likely to be extremely busy doing your day job, staying on top of the closing process is essential as a hiring manager.

If this part of the process is slow and cumbersome, you can lose your preferred candidate or they can be poached by another organisation. There is an emotional shift in a candidate once they engage in a headhunting process – they become more open to hearing about other opportunities. If things are dragging, be available for a call or meeting with the candidate to maintain engagement and provide a feeling of momentum.

While getting things done as quickly as possible is important, not every organisation can move with speed when drafting a contract, planning a relocation package or tying up the final loose ends in the process. As such, the most important thing is to manage expectations accurately and give realistic timelines to the candidate along the way.

Nothing builds frustration in a candidate like promising something and not delivering. This can lead to candidates questioning what sort of organisation they are joining – is it too slow moving? Is there a culture of overpromising and under-delivering?

You are most likely in a better position than those running the hiring process to exert pressure internally, when necessary. Doing so at the right time might be the difference between whether or not you secure the candidate you have spent months searching for.

5. Be prepared to be challenged

The candidate that is a 100% fit might not be out there, or securing them may not be possible for a number of reasons. To get the best talent, sometimes you have to be creative in where and how you look for this person. Maybe it is someone who has done the role in the past, rather than one who is doing it now. Maybe it is someone who has never done it, but their blend of skills and experience adds up to a really strong profile.

It could easily be someone who is a number two in a department, who is doing 90% of the work and getting 10% of the credit. When you’re striving to find the best talent for your team or organisation, you need to be prepared to challenge your own thinking in a positive way. Someone who might not look like the perfect fit on paper may be the ideal senior leader for your team.


Duncan MacKay is the Director of Client Partnerships and Research at Winter Circle. For information about using Winter Circle to find your next senior leaders, contact client@wintercircle.co.

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