Hiring executive talent: Preparing for the search

By Andrew Harris
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/21/2003

The executive recruitment process is a two-way street.

Companies have a job description that lists the qualifications necessary; candidates have their education and experience to bring to market. The key point is that employment is a marketplace and the candidate should be treated like a customer. The following are some customer-service considerations in the recruitment process.

Position description

Aside from the must-have attributes of education, experience and skills, it’s important that recruiters take the time to understand the intangibles of the position as well. Sometimes known as “on paper/off paper”, take the time to explore the unofficial job specifications not included in the official description. These include attributes that assist a successful incumbent. Do you need a charmer to get people on board, a gladiator willing to forego popularity and make the tough decisions? Also included are the long-term goals of the position, growth potential, salary guidelines and the like.

Sourcing candidates

Once your recruitment resources have been set into motion, you can take the opportunity to scour the marketplace based on your requirements. Executive search consultants will typically phone a large number of people who meet these requirements to review career histories, major accomplishments, education, and determine the prospects’ level of interest. While screening out candidates, smart consultants will simultaneously talk up the company and the position to ideal candidates, drumming up interest on their end.

The best candidates are top performers in their current roles, well respected and well treated by their current employers, and are not necessarily in a hurry to jump ship.

There are a variety of factors that can trigger a career move (compensation, stress, training and education, job satisfaction, expectations, opportunities, etc). Find out their hot buttons and tailor accordingly. Be cautious not to misrepresent the opportunity or the firm, but be aware that you’re selling to an audience of one.

Most executive recruiting firms provide a formal write-up of the top four or five candidates. This write-up includes a career brief, appraisal, detailed compensation summary and on some occasions, references. In doing so, they have taken the necessary time to prepare the candidates for the road ahead.

By this point the candidate should understand what kind of package is at stake, how they are of value to the company, so that they can sell themselves, what the company is offering them in return outside of their paycheque, and prepare their references should they be contacted.

Keep your candidates informed on what you’re doing and when. If plans change, notify them. By the same token, notify any unsuccessful candidates.


Ideally, the interview should be a discussion at this point rather than a question and answer period. Candidates should be well prepared to offer evidence to support their candidacy. Take the opportunity to find out as much as possible about them. Find out why they’re interested in the job, why the opportunity you present is so appealing. Executives in the firm will have to reintroduce the notion of selling their company and their ideas to candidates.

Executives who have been with a company for some time may fail to recognize this. Be forewarned that if you don’t pitch, other companies will. Discuss any concerns the candidate may have regarding the position and have a frank discussion on what the candidate should expect. Discuss the immediate and future challenges the candidate will face, what kind of career progression is expected, how much authority they will have.

Lastly, get a detailed explanation of candidates’ compensation packages. You pay for what you get, don’t expect to bring in a star with a package that’s below industry standard.

Final decision

Now that you’ve taken the appropriate amount of time to thoroughly discuss the position with your candidates it’s time to move quickly. A rushed decision is certainly not recommended, however don’t be so naive as to assume your company is the only one interested in the candidate. Many top performers are continuously in touch with several executive recruitment firms at any given time. Prepare the chosen candidate for a counter offer. If all has gone as discussed, you should be well prepared and confident bringing a new star on board.

Treat candidates as customers

•Plan your search properly; let candidates know what you’re doing and when.

•Be clear with the candidate about the position.

•Assume that you are not the only company interested in the candidate.

•Listen to the candidate’s concerns about the position. Find out all you can about what a potential hire is looking for.

•Promote your company, the position, and outline your vision for the future, tailoring it to your audience of one. If you don’t pitch, other companies will.

•Treat them like a priority. Make time for them and show them the respect they deserve.

•Present the candidate you select with an offer immediately. Prepare a counter offer.

Andrew Harris is a project analyst with Toronto-based RJ Professionals, a management consulting firm specializing in recruitment and retention. He can be reached at (416) 363-7197 ext. 23, or andrewh@rjprofessionals.com.

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