3 Steps for Tapping Top Executive Talent

By David E. Perry, Mark J. Haluska

In the current economy, with a relatively new recruiting paradigm, any executive recruiting project boils down to three key steps: Figuring out what types of knowledge and personal qualities are most important for the role; figuring out how to find people with that knowledge and those qualities; and figuring out how to hire the person who best matches your needs.

Step 1: Figure out what you’re looking for

Figuring out what you’re looking for — that’s easy enough, right?

Maybe. But maybe not.

In today’s knowledge economy, knowing what you’re after — what’s important — means looking beyond job titles and compensation tables. You have to be able to evaluate the real value of someone’s contribution. To do this, you must thoroughly understand

  • What contribution you want
  • How you’ll know when you find it

Especially for senior positions, companies rarely look to tick a box on a standard employee recruitment form. Instead, they’re looking for something more nebulous — and more important. They’re looking for someone who can deliver a quality rather than a quantity — a quality that creates value for the company.

Of course, key contributions and qualities may be difficult to identify. To help with this, the following table lists common contributions, or value requirements, and the qualities that drive them.

Value Requirement Corresponding Quality
Contributions and Qualities
Creating new intellectual wealth for the company or adding to its intellectual assets A consuming desire to make something new — to cut a new path rather than take a heavily traveled road
Having high-energy enthusiasm for the job, regardless of the hours worked The belief that work is a game and an integral, vibrant part of one’s life
The belief that the money is not only not the most important issue, but also beside the point An internal desire to leave a “legacy signature” on her work rather than strive for a paycheck
Enduring performance The desire and ability to finish the race — because not finishing is simply inconceivable
An ability to “think around corners” to creatively problem-solve An inner voice that says, “There’s always a way to [create a technology fix/make a deal/and so on].”
The display of up-to-date professionalism at all times The desire to grow professionally — to become the best person he can be and to invest in himself
An ever-increasing contribution The knowledge that making an individual contribution is the key to inner pleasure
The ability to identify and develop value for your company An instinctive grasp and ability to capitalize on real value, such as the intangible capital of brand image, staff talent, and customer relationships

As you can see, what you’re looking for goes beyond skillsets and résumés. You want someone whose qualities will drive the contribution you seek. When you share a vision, you ensure a successful fit.

Step 2: Find people with the knowledge and qualities you seek

In the knowledge economy, companies leverage smart ideas to generate huge value. Not surprisingly, the people who think up those ideas are more valuable than ever before. They almost certainly already have jobs — good jobs — and they’re not looking for new ones.

The talent you’re after is busy winning. They’re not surfing job boards, registering with employment agencies, or updating their LinkedIn profiles. The best of the best aren’t likely to respond to — or even see — your job ads. So, how do you find someone who isn’t raising her hand saying, “Here I am”?

Employee surveys reveal that most people don’t particularly like moving to a new organization. They’d rather change jobs within a company than leave the company altogether. This is especially true for people who believe they already work for and with the best.

Step 3: Hire the person who best matches your needs

In the knowledge economy, money is a secondary driver. Sure, it’s important, but when you reach a certain baseline, it’s not that big of a deal. Instead, knowledge workers are driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Take companies like Facebook, Google, and Tesla. The people who work at these companies aren’t driven by money; they want to change the world. That’s their purpose. Or consider Google. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded that company to life in 1998, they didn’t do it to cash in. They did it to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (In fact, that’s the company’s stated mission.) And of course, there’s Apple. It wasn’t merely money that drove Steve Jobs to build the world’s most valuable company and transform seven industries — personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing — along the way. It was his obsession with simplicity.

Not surprisingly, top talent flock to the aforementioned companies. Indeed, these companies (and a select few others) offer tremendous cachet. People who work for them do so proudly.

Although it’s true that you need to pay an appropriate wage to draw top talent, that’s just the price of admission. You also have to foster a work environment that gives them what they really want: the freedom to lead, the ability to succeed, and the opportunity to work toward something they care about. In addition, you must conduct your executive recruiting project using only proven methods, including the following:

  • Micro-targeting the competition’s executives
  • Treating each potential prospect as an individual by providing a customized approach tailored to his needs
  • Connecting with candidates on both a logical and an emotional level
  • Speaking to the candidate’s values (Hint: It’s not always about money!)
  • Delivering a value proposition — similar to an elevator pitch — that focuses on the candidate’s needs, not yours

Companies position themselves with top talent by making both a logical and an emotional connection.

As Skip Freeman, author of Headhunter Hiring Secrets 2.0, says, “Top talent is scarce — and it’s likely to stay that way. That means smart organizations do everything they can to retain their key people. If you’re going to persuade people to take on new opportunities, you’ll need to make sure that the opportunities you’re presenting are good ones . . . and woo them like they’ve never been wooed before!”