Executive Search Challenges
Executive Search isn’t rocket science. So why are executive search challenges are common? Executive searches often take too long. In fact, 40% of retained executive searches fail to complete. And executive search challenges don’t stop when an executive opening is filled. Far too often, the “transplant doesn’t take”. The executive hired turns out to be someone the employer would rather not keep. A survey by the Corporate Executive Board found that one out of every five hires is a “bad hire”, one that in hindsight the hiring executive regrets making.
Still, how hard could executive search really be? At last check, executive search consulting isn’t even offered as a specific major. Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations does offer an advanced program in partnership with the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). But that’s as good as it gets.
With no license requirements and few barriers to entry, virtually anyone can hang out a shingle and does. Amateur recruiters and inexpert search partners may be at the root of ongoing executive search challenges. Come to think of it, it is even harder to go into real estate than it is to go into executive recruiting — the career of last resort for some who can’t figure out what else to do.
Executive Candidate Warning Signs
Recruiting top C-level senior executive talent takes time — often more than a CEO would like. In fact, for companies that really believe employees are their most valuable asset, the Founder and Chairman of Kevin Ryan has a “simple test” to make sure they walk the walk. In an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review, Mr. Ryan advises, “Ask the CEO if he or she spends more time on recruiting and managing people than on any other activity. For me, the answer has always been yes.”
In executive search, it is important to manage time effectively by quickly eliminating executive candidates that are not viable. Culling your long list of candidates down to a curated short list of contenders optimizes executive recruiting and talent acquisition as it speeds time-to-hire.
A Greater New York City Area retained executive search firm, The Good Search recruits top executive candidates for executive recruiting clients in media and technology. Over the years in our work as executive search consultants, we’ve learned to recognize the signs an executive candidate is not a contender. Listed below is our list of the top 6 reasons not to hire an executive candidate.
6 Reasons Not to Hire an Executive Candidate
1. Money Fixation
As a retained search firm, we regularly negotiate annual compensation packages in excess of a million dollars with an opportunity for significant wealth creation. However, we grow concerned whenever a candidate fixates on money to the exclusion of more intrinsic motivations such as the pursuit of excellence, leadership, and creating real value. When a candidate cuts to the money early on in conversations and keeps returning to the topic — when they appear to be motivated by money alone — their values are flawed. Money-obsessed executives have trouble leading and inspiring teams to new heights. They become as fungible as money itself.
2. Dropped Balls
Executive recruiters often request that candidates forward a resume before a scheduled call. In addition to needing the information, executive headhunters use the resume as a litmus test to determine how serious a candidate is about exploratory discussions. Whenever candidates promise resumes that they then fail to provide, it is a warning sign. The executives may lack the executive ability to keep their word. They may also lack the necessary motivation to make a move to a new company. Another warning sign is when candidates repeatedly cancel appointments with little apology or reason. Their behavior is showing us who they really are and what to expect from them as a potential hire. For that reason, getting stood up by a candidate is reason enough to disconnect.
3. Dodgy Answers
Clearly, candidates are motivated to present themselves in the best possible light. However, the moment a candidate’s answers are intentionally evasive or misleading, they have crossed the line. Candidates that do not give a straight answer may lack the ability — to quote Oprah — to “stand in their own truth.” In a recent Harvard Business Review Blog Network article, the CEO of Banyan Family Business Advisors Rob Lachenauer reveals how impressed he was by a candidate who volunteered that she had a mental illness during her job interview. She explained that she had been on medications for a decade and had not had any episodes during that period of time. At the time, the CEO didn’t know what to say, but thanked her for her integrity. Ultimately, Mr. Lachenauer hired the candidate because she was qualified and because she had the courage and strength to reveal her vulnerability.
4. Radio Silence
Another warning sign is when candidates suddenly fall silent in their communications. An abrupt failure to respond to calls or emails is often an indicator that the executive may be engaged in discussions with another employer, or may have had second thoughts about the opportunity. I know of one candidate who actually accepted a formal job offer, then it was as if the executive fell off the face of the earth. She just stopped communicating, leaving the prospective employer first worried, then annoyed, and ultimately scratching their heads in disbelief. A week or two later, the candidate surface at another company, completely burning bridges with the company she had treated so disrespectfully. Some candidates fear openly admitting they are being pursued by another employer. However, being in demand is not a problem: being opaque about it is. Top performing executives are clear as to their intentions, and keep all interested parties informed as to their process.
5. Crippled Communications
Candidates whose answers lack organization or who fail to get to the point after so much blah-blah-blah most likely have problems leading. Most top performing executives have an exceptional command of the English language: they use it to their advantage to persuade and evangelize. While some typographical errors are inevitable in the thumb-typing, auto-correcting age in which we live. great leaders set themselves apart by in their communications. Whether they’re speaking off-the-cuff, in an email, text or tweet, their intelligence always comes through. In fact, as our collective attention span shrinks, as our emails are reduced to the size of tweets, top executives also display a mastery of the new haiku. Increasingly, great leaders must also be capable of distilling a message down it its shortest, purest form. Senior executives who lack a command of the written and spoken word are missing a critical skill set: walk on by.
Asking a candidate to give an example where they failed or “hit the wall” is often seen as a trick question. In fact, asking any candidate to share anything negative about themselves is seen as a kind of test for which there really is no right answer. However, there are wrong answers. Anytime a candidate asserts he or she has never failed is a red flag. It suggests either that the candidate is arrogant or is unable to lead an examined life. When asked about their greatest weakness, whenever a candidate serves up the cliche answer “I work too hard”, I groan silently on the inside. The answer conveys a smug self-reverence at having turned an imaginary negative into a positive, as if it deserves an immediate high-five. In a piece he wrote for the Harvard Business Review blog network, David Reese, the head of people and culture at Medallia, shares insight on why it is better to give a real answer: you don’t want to leave them wondering who you really are. At The Good Search, we concur. The employers we serve want to hire smart, capable, and forthright leaders who can speak the truth, not spin it.
What other warning signs would you add to the list?
Your First Chief Data Officer
If knowledge is power, hiring your company’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO) may be the shortest path to a competitive advantage. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, you hire a Chief Data Officer in order to compete with data.
That first Chief Data Officer will likely need data scientists, and eventually a data lab, and a data factory — respectively one place to do longer term, innovative, out-of-the box thinking, and the other place to do more process-focused data analytics aimed at more immediate results.
Hiring your first Chief Data Officer also involves significant change management. Your leadership, divisions, departments, and teams will need to be prepared to share their information. The walls of organizational silos must come down. In addition, when the Chief Data Officer serves up actionable intelligence, leadership must be prepared, after all, to act. That action can bring about seismic shifts as your company morphs into an entity that is more competitive.
The place to begin is by how you think about data: where it exists and how it might be used. Ask yourself what entities capture data specific to your business. In my former career as an investigative journalist, I learned that virtually every time a person interacts with the government, a record is created: that’s data. Today, virtually every time we interact with an electronic device, a record is created — every time we turn on our cell phone, send an email, visit a website, or scan in our credit card at the corner store. In addition to the data that your company captures, there are other data that are available for acquisition. Think about all the insights the data might hold. (More on this later.)
According to David Simchi-Levi, professor of engineering systems at MIT and head of the Accenture and MIT Alliance in Business Analytics, big data analytics addresses four kinds of questions:
- Descriptive: Tell me what happened.
- Diagnostic: Don’t just tell me what happened, tell me why it happened.
- Predictive: Tell me what will happen.
- Prescriptive: Tell me how I can I make it happen.
But there is one last question that CEOs must ask themselves as they consider the implications of the tsunami of data that is now available.
Tell me what happens if one my top competitors hires a Chief Data Officer first?
Since knowledge is power, the answer is obvious. Your competitor will have gained a significant competitive advantage. That is why a growing number of CEOs are deciding the time for their first Chief Data Officer has come.
Oscar Wilde noted more than a century ago that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. And thus, it should come as no surprise that there are lessons to be learned about executive search when viewed through the lens of the burlesque. Burlesque is defined as humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody, grotesque exaggeration — and, yes, even striptease. So what is a discussion about burlesque doing in a blog about recruiting? Stay with me.
My teenage daughter watched the movie Chicago for the first time. For me, it was the umpteenth, but I was taken by how many of its bawdy observations applied to the world of executive search. The song Mr. Cellophane could be just as much as song about a candidate struggling to be noticed, as it is about the character Amos Hart (John C. Reilly) who is the husband of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a woman who hopes to break into vaudeville, and gets there after killing her boyfriend and hiring lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). She teams up with Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who killed her cheating husband to become a vaudeville act.
Shoulda been my name
‘Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there…
Frequently, I am approached by Mr. or Ms. Cellophane trying desperately to be seen and heard. While I try to help and while I have pro bono efforts to that end, I am not a personal career coach or agent. I am paid by very powerful client corporations to find the ideal candidate for a specific role or opening. That said, I regularly foster relationships with select executives who are counted among industry’s best and brightest – luminaries and up-and-coming stars. However, what’s a candidate to do if he or she isn’t counted among the rock stars in the 99th percentile? What’s the best way to to get on my radar screen? Again, there’s a lesson to be learned from burlesque.
Executives and technologists regularly call executive search consultants asking for help to in finding their next opportunity. However, calling up and asking a complete stranger to do you a favor is not the best way to make a good first impression. That kind of initial “how-dee-do” can make you sound needy and even selfish. As a result, you are practically asking to be rejected.
Networking is not about the get, it is about the give. When you give, you become empowered. The give may be sharing industry insight, making an introduction, or offering to refer business. But when you go there — when you focus on what you can do for someone instead of what they can do for you — you will consistently yield better results. You avoid “graspiness”, which carries with it a whiff of desperation. I know it is challenging to do when you are, actually, in desperate circumstances. Unemployment has a way of pushing families to the brink of homelessness so very quickly. But still, focusing on the give helps get your mojo working again. You put energy out there in the universe that will reap rewards. I have seen it happen, time and again.
So be good to Mama, my friends, be very, very good.