According to The Executive Search Benchmark Performance Report (by Clockwork, a leading software company for the executive search industry), the average executive search takes over 120 days to complete, and nearly 30% of executive searches are never completed.
In my experience as an executive recruiter, there are five common mistakes that can derail an executive search and lead to a slow and/or unsuccessful outcome. Avoid these five mistakes, and your organization will fill key leadership roles faster.
(1) Lack of clarity and alignment
I was once part of an executive search team that was retained to lead an executive search for one of the world’s top consulting firms. Over a six-month period, our client changed their search criteria four different times. Each time, they asked us to target candidates from a completely different industry. These significant changes in strategy forced us to start from scratch multiple times. The result was a much slower process.
Before your company begins an executive search, gather everyone involved in the hiring decision. Discuss what the open role would need to accomplish to be considered a resounding success. Then, work backwards to identify the top 3-5 criteria that candidates would need to possess in order to accomplish your goals for the role. Use those 3-5 criteria to identify a list of target companies to search for candidates and to identify and assess candidates.
This exercise will require more time and effort up-front, and that is why very few hiring teams actually do it. However, it will save you time in the end and ultimately lead to a better outcome. Your hiring process will become more efficient and more objective, and you will be less likely to make an emotional, subjective decision based on gut feeling.
(2) Search criteria that are too specific
Lack of clarity and alignment is not the only reason why an executive search could move slowly. Sometimes, hiring teams know exactly what they are looking for. However, that can be problematic as well.
For example, I was once part of an executive search team that was retained to lead an executive search for a company headquartered in China. The hiring team was very clear on what they were looking for with one of their open positions. However, given that they were seeking someone with a PhD in an extremely specialized area, there were less than 20 people in the world who were qualified.
Identifying the candidates was actually pretty easy. Getting them to leave their current role was another story, especially since relocation to a different country would have been required for almost all of them.
As you think through the selection criteria for your ideal candidate, consider how many people actually meet those criteria. If you are unable to identify at least 25 people in your region (no relocation required), that is not a good sign.
You can certainly still start by targeting candidates who hit the bulls-eye. However, you should be prepared to expand your search criteria if you aren’t making progress.
(3) Poor value proposition for top candidates
Before you start an executive search, ask yourself why a high performer should be interested in making a change to work for your company in this specific role. Top candidates need to be sold on why they should consider making a change. The more compelling the value proposition (both for your company and for a specific role), the more likely that you will be able to attract outstanding people.
In addition, think about what might make your role/organization unattractive. No company or role is perfect. For example, maybe your organization is not very well-known. Or, maybe the location for the role is undesirable. Be honest about the potential drawbacks of the position. Then, determine how you will overcome those challenges to engage top candidates.
(4) An inefficient or inconsiderate interview process
Your search strategy does not matter if your interview process is executed slowly or poorly. You would be amazed by how often hiring teams take weeks or even months to schedule candidates for initial interviews or follow-up interviews. What type of message does that send to a candidate?
A slow scheduling process (or a slow follow-up process) is a big turn-off. Candidates will question how serious your company is about the role. They will also wonder if they are merely a backup option while you chase other people.
High performers always have many options, and they are usually not actively looking for another role anyway. They need to be courted every step of the way, especially while you are interviewing them and assessing them.
Unless someone is on vacation or knows that a search is on hold, you or your search consultant should provide some sort of update every week for an active candidate. What if you don’t have any update on the interview process? That’s fine. Contact the candidate anyway. Share some recent news about your company or industry, or let them know that you don’t have an update yet on next steps.
(5) A last-minute change or surprise
Accepting a new job is a stressful, emotional process. The last thing that a candidate needs is a reason to question if he can trust the company that he is about to join or the person that he is about to work for. Unfortunately, many employers fail to fully appreciate this.
For example, I was once part of a team that was retained to lead an executive search for a well-known technology company. After an extensive search process, our client was prepared to make an offer to one of our finalists.
Unbeknownst to us, the CEO made a last-minute change to his organizational structure. Our candidate had initially been told that he would report directly to the CEO. However, when we reached the offer stage, the CEO decided to have the role report to one of his direct reports instead. As you might expect, this last-minute change did not sit well with our candidate. He turned down the offer.
Be very careful about what you promise to candidates during the interview process. It only takes a minor change or surprise to blow up a search and force you to start from scratch.
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About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for companies that make the world stronger. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and Fortune.com, and he is the author of two books and over 150 articles on career management, healthy living, high performance, and executive recruiting.