How to Make the Right Hire

Strategies for finding executives for the long term

Written by:  Richard Henley, Partner

You have spent hours crafting the job description, outlining the ideal skill set, interviewed countless candidates, and picked a winner.  Three months in, you start to have some doubts, by month six you can’t believe you have missed some glaring gaps, and nine months later you make the hard decision to replace your “perfect” new hire. Many seasoned managers have had this experience or knows someone who has.

Cultural fit is the number one determinant for a new executive’s success.  Skill set and professional background are not the sole indicators that an executive will succeed in an organization.  Companies are like living breathing organisms, they both embrace and accept you or they reject you like a cancer and spit you out.  When an executive is unable to meld into a new organization within the first 90 days, it is often very hard for them to succeed over the long term. 

In today’s war for talent, we find that many organizations are laser focused on closely matching a candidate’s skill set, education and professional background to the role that they are hiring for.  Hiring managers are looking for an Executive that has been in a similar situation as their company, solving a very similar set of issues with solid business results. Executives are expected to give multiple examples in their career illustrating how they align with the company’s current challenges and opportunities, and demonstrate how successful they been.  Hiring managers spend the majority of their time in interviews matching a candidate’s past experience to their carefully crafted job description.

Previous success at another company is important and should always be examined closely.  However, it should not be the sole focus when hiring a new executive. Lets imagine you have gone through an exhaustive set of interviews and have two finalists with ideal professional backgrounds and impressive educational pedigrees.  “Susan” and “Bill” will be their names to illustrate our point.  This seems like a difficult decision, which candidate should you choose? The only way to make an educated decision is to go beyond basic reference checking and “peel back the onion”.

One strategy is back-channel reference checking.  In this case, we called people in our network that were connected to Susan or Bill – people who were not on the list of references they provided.  Susan’s colleagues said she achieved amazing results in every organization that she was in.  In fact, a few wanted to know what company she was going to join because they wanted the opportunity to work with her again.  After speaking to Bill’s colleagues, we discovered that he achieved to the same stratospheric results.  However, many of his colleagues stated that while he was successful he was impossible to work with.  He only thought about himself and he didn’t care who we stepped on in order to achieve his results.  Many people within Bill’s network said that there is no way they would work with him again.  So here you have it.  Two candidates with tremendous professional experience, excellent educational backgrounds, and on paper and in-person seem to meet every part of the job description.  Susan would be the perfect hire for what you’re trying to achieve, while Bill could cause tremendous disruption to your organization.

five strategies to making the right hire:

1.  Complete backchannel references on every candidate.

Make sure you get the complete story on someone’s background.  Speak with subordinates, peers, and their managers that are beyond their list of references.

2.  Before you make a job offer, take them a social setting.

You are going to spend a lot of time with this person.  Make sure you spend some time with them outside of the office.  Take them out to dinner and find out what motivates them and where their passions lie. 

3.  Make sure the candidate has spent some significant time thinking about how they’re going to add value to your company.

What’s their plan for the first 90 / 180 days on the job…..What do they think of other companies’ strategies within the industry?  Make sure they are truly engaged and excited about your business.

4.  Whenever possible, get copies of performance reviews from previous jobs.

Ask candidates to submit these late in the process to make sure answers are not tuned to what is already in the reviews. Having said that, don’t “over read” the reviews as your needs and their old situation may differ.

5.  Look for hints of what a candidate’s superiors thought of them.

Who got promoted and who was given greater responsibility? Why not this candidate? Getting promoted is usually good but can be bad, depending upon that situation and your requirements.