Putting Together an Executive Recruiting Plan

By David E. Perry, Mark J. Haluska

Making a project plan for your executive recruitment will help ensure you deliver your project on time and maybe even under budget by clearly outlining each process, phase, activity, and task required to complete it. The plan also details your projected time frame, including milestones, and any resources you require.

Simply put, your plan — which you should commit to paper rather than simply storing it in your noggin — acts as a road map, giving the search committee and the hiring team a heads-up on what’s coming and helping them stay on track.

This important document should articulate each of the following in simple language, but great detail:

  • The expected outcome of a successful search: This one-paragraph summary lays out the what, when, and why. That is, it defines what role is to be filled, specifies when it should be filled, and explains why it should be filled. (This last item will reflect the business outcomes called for by the organization’s business plan.)
  • Your search process: Outline step by step what will happen during the search, from start to finish. That means doing the following:
    • Identifying all processes, activities, and tasks (and the associated costs)
    • Summarizing the effort needed to complete each process, activity, and task
    • Modularizing sections of work to assign to others for completion
    • Delineating team tasks, such as research, sourcing, and so on
    • Documenting all process interdependencies
    • Listing assumptions and constraints
    • Identifying risks to the project (for example, supply and demand, time, geography, compensation, and so on)
    • Noting success measures and key milestones based on historical averages
  • Your budget: Establish a budget to cover all activities — and people — you may need to involve in the search. (This is in addition to the executive’s compensation package.)
  • Your team: List who will be involved in the search, and what each person will contribute.
  • Your tools and resources: Identify what tools and resources you’ll use to locate, identify, and evaluate candidates.
  • Your timeline: This should outline the expected duration of the search, as well as when you expect to hit various milestones toward completion.
  • A brief executive summary: This includes a short summary of each of the preceding plan elements.

It’s not just about what’s in your plan, however. The plan must also be

  • Clever: The best of the best rarely look to switch jobs. And if they do, then they have choices — lots of them. To grab their attention, it helps to get clever. For example, one client of David’s sought “creative” applicants for a director of online marketing position. To intrigue top candidates, as well as root out anyone who lacked this important quality, David posted the job on LinkedIn and other job boards, instructing applicants to contact him in a “creative manner.” To make things even more interesting, he omitted his contact information, forcing applicants to figure out how to get in touch. The result? David received dozens of high-quality submissions from applicants at firms ranging from AOL to O magazine to Disney and beyond.
  • Results driven: Invariably, you’ll be under tremendous pressure to deliver results. To keep your hiring team and stakeholder groups on track, establish milestones and measure your progress as you go. This will also help you assess how close you are to achieving your goal.
  • Marketing oriented: Recruiting is the ultimate one-to-one marketing activity. Today, recruiting requires you to micro-target the competition’s employees where they live (not where they work), and to treat each potential recruit as an individual. That means providing a customized response that is tailored to their needs and delivers a value proposition, like an elevator pitch. Yes, the old methods — advertising, networking, referrals, and so on — should remain part of your plan, but they no longer suffice. By themselves, they just don’t have the horsepower to attract the attention of busy executives.
  • Affordable: Recruiting costs money, whether you do it using in-house resources or hire it out. Unfortunately, for many companies — especially start-ups — cash is tighter than Mick Jagger’s pants. In that case, you may need to take an indirect approach.
  • Realistic: Knowing what you want to do is great. The question is: Can you do it? The plan you establish must be realistic, or it’s no plan at all.
  • Targeted: Knowing the exact title your ideal candidate holds now, along with the candidate’s exact function, gives you a specific target to pursue. So get specific. The more details, the better.

Nothing is more important to your project’s success than a clear, detailed, well-articulated plan. With a plan you can organize your talent search with a laserlike focus. (Yes, you may get lucky without such a plan, but luck is unpredictable.) That’s not to say your plan has to be super long, though. It should be just long enough to ensure you won’t forget anything important down the line.

Clarity of purpose is both energizing and enabling. That’s why you need a detailed plan.

The first time you build a project plan, expect it to take a while — maybe even as long as a week. The good news? You can reuse this detailed plan as a template for future executive recruiting projects. This will shorten the time it takes to build your plan considerably. Indeed, an experienced recruiter can develop a plan using a template in 20 minutes or so.