10 Key Principles of Effective Executive Recruiting

By David E. Perry, Mark J. Haluska

Executive recruiting is a complex process, but a few key principles apply across the board. Keeping these points in mind will help you land the right person for the right job, every time.

Remember it’s always a seller’s market

The best executives — the ones you’re looking to hire — already have jobs. Good ones. Indeed, the best and brightest in any industry rarely if ever look for a new job. But you want to find the best talent out there, not just the best among those looking for work!

That means you have to build your team by skillfully targeting employees who work for your competitors. Establish a crack team of people to court them. Then create a rigorous interview process designed to get to know these executives and reveal positive details about your process. That’s the only way to win in a seller’s market!

Sell first, buy later

Very few business owners do an adequate job selling prospective candidates on their companies. For some reason, they assume everyone’s as enthralled with their companies as they are! That’s why you need to sell first and buy later. In other words, you must “sell” your business before you attempt to “buy” talent. Paint your business as a winner, and insist that everyone in the hiring process do the same. Most executives don’t switch jobs for more money. They move for greater challenges and the opportunity to play on a winning team. Package your organization accordingly.

Be opportunistic

Assign one senior person in your HR group the task of actively scouting the top talent in your industry. This person should keep his ear to the ground to find out when your competitors’ best people are ripe for a change, such as when stock options vest, new products are late to market, or there has been a change in senior management. Recent or upcoming acquisitions are also prime opportunities. And if a competitor announces layoffs, have your HR rep call the people he has been tracking there — particularly the ones who survived the purge — and offer them the opportunity to work with you.

No question about it: The best time to tempt someone is while she’s pondering her future. Your gain is your competitor’s loss, at its most vulnerable time.

Use a boutique search firm

Unbeknownst to most corporate hiring authorities, large executive search firms don’t actually have a particularly extensive reach. And they’re often spread too thin — meaning you have to compete for their attention. That’s why using a boutique firm is recommended rather than a larger search entity. A boutique firm can bring knowledge, judgment, efficiency, and objectivity to your executive search. Plus, the better boutique search firms have a very high success ratio. Indeed, these firms guarantee success, working on your project until it’s complete.

Be the first to walk away

Recruiting top talent requires considerably more time and effort than attracting the average performer. Give yourself room to get the deal done without the added pressure of time. That way, you maintain control of the process. It also gives you leeway to walk away if a candidate’s expectations exceed your budget. When you walk away first, it increases the value of your business in the candidate’s mind.

Build a farm team and draft only A-players

Every great sports team has a roster of A-players waiting on the sideline, primed for the coach to send them in at just the right moment. Likewise, you must constantly assess and balance the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Long before you need to make a change, your HR group should be building your bench strength. Challenge your HR team to scout out top talent ahead of time and to systematically track these potential hires. One way to do this is to save attendee rosters from conferences and trade shows. Another is to connect with candidates who applied for positions when none were available, but showed great progress. Then keep in touch using a service like LinkedIn.

Seal the deal with psychic cash

Everybody wants to be the best — to leave an impression on the world. If you can provide people with the things they need to achieve that goal — state-of-the-art technology, industry leadership, fast growth, stability, challenge, and so on — you’re more likely to draw them in. These resources are psychic cash. What’s great about psychic cash is, you can use it to shift the conversation away from actual cash. If you make your (truly) best financial offer and supplement it with psychic cash, you exponentially increase your odds of landing top talent.

Leverage your “Manning factor”

Everyone wants to play on the team led by Peyton Manning. (Or Cam Newton. Or Tom Brady. Or Aaron Rodgers.) That means you need to channel your inner MVP. Build your personal brand and that of your business. Cultivate positive impressions. If you can convince top executives that you can help them win a Super Bowl, they’ll be far more interested in working for you! This is also a good way to mint some psychic cash.

Qualify for integrity

Actions speak louder than words. As you proceed through the hiring process, look for ways to judge the integrity of each candidate. When hiring, take Warren Buffett’s advice: “Look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Integrity — people either have it or they don’t. And if they don’t, you don’t want them working for you.

Don’t hire a liar

Often, interviewers extend offers based on their first impressions, gut feelings, or chemistry, with little (if any) regard for the hard evidence that proves which candidate is right for the job. Don’t do this! To ensure you don’t wind up with an underperformer (or worse, someone who is ethically suspect), you must perform background and reference checks. Indeed, reference checks are the only way to sort out who really has the skills and who’s just a smooth talker. Speaking with an executive’s co-workers and direct reports during a reference check is the only way to obtain an accurate assessment of that prospective hire. Oh, and don’t outsource executive-level reference checks. Check the references of every prospective executive hire yourself.