Here’s 3 Keys to Successful Executive Recruiting

To ensure that you aren’t excluding high-potential candidates in your executive searches, recruitment firm Robinson Resource Group offers three key tips for establishing an open-minded recruiting strategy. Let’s look into the report, joined by some other experts.

May 9, 2018 – Just about every business publication today, it seems, is talking about the impact of the growing talent shortage on both individual organizations and the overall economy. Research suggests that roughly 40 percent of employers are currently experiencing hiring difficulties. What’s more, 76 percent of hiring decision-makers surveyed for a recent Glass Door report said that attracting quality candidates is their No.1 challenge.

A recent report by executive search firm Robinson Resource Group, however, indicates that there is more to the problem than meets the eye. “While many organizations are quick to blame their recruitment struggles on a lack of qualified applicants, our experience tells us that plenty of great talent exists in the marketplace, and it’s businesses that are failing to properly assess the potential of available candidates,” said the study.

With most successful companies today focus on continual innovation, it’s no surprise that candidates with more specialized skill-sets are in high demand. “However, before organizations begin feverishly adding new job requirements to their open positions, it’s important to consider that with every new mandatory skill comes a new opportunity to screen out exceptional talent,” said the Naperville, IL-based boutique firm. “Quite simply, the more restrictive you are in asserting what your ideal candidate must look like on paper, the more limited your talent pool becomes. This equation becomes especially dangerous when hiring at the C-suite level, as true leadership potential can never be fully assessed solely by the content of a resume.”

To ensure that you aren’t excluding any high-potential candidates in your executive searches, Robinson Resource Group offered three tips for establishing an open-minded recruiting strategy:

1. Value Potential as Highly as Experience

When seeking to fill high-profile, executive-level positions, it makes sense that most organizations would prefer to hire a candidate who has already proven successful within a similar role. The idea of less risk, less hand-holding and more immediate contributions is understandably attractive. “However, when determining what skills and experiences should be treated as mandatory, it’s important to consider that placing too much focus on a strict laundry list of requirements can almost guarantee that a number of high-potential candidates will be overlooked for the role,” said the report.

In a perfect world, organizations would view a candidate’s experience and potential as a package deal – ensuring non-negotiables are checked off, but also understanding that an individual who is an exceptional culture fit and who is passionate about the position might well outperform a candidate who is simply more experienced on paper, said the firm.

2. Put a Premium on Soft Skills

In a Harvard Business Review article, author Claudio Fernández-Aráoz outlined five soft skills that he deemed to be the hallmarks of potential, suggesting that motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination comprise a person’s ability to succeed in a given role. Although such soft skills have historically been undervalued during the hiring process, a new study by LinkedIn Learning revealed that demand for them has risen sharply in recent years, making soft skills the top priority for talent development leaders.


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Across the board, in every industry, today’s candidate-driven market is fueled by growing demand for top talent against a landscape of short supply. What led to this tight marketplace is explained in a report by Slayton Search Partners, which also offers suggestions to help companies attract the best talent.


“Because of the speed at which both individual organizations and entire industries are innovating, it’s now widely understood that positions may require different technical skills tomorrow than today,” said the Robinson Resource Group report. “As a result, having strong executives in place with the soft skills required to continually adapt and lead companies through significant change and growth is no longer a nice to have, but rather a critical requirement for sustainable success.”

3. Think Outside the Industry

When it comes to making executive hires, industry experience is usually a given requirement. “Despite organizations celebrating other types of diversity within their teams, diversity of industry background is not as commonly recognized for its potential advantages,” the report said. The recruitment firm pointed out, however, that many core competencies, especially at the executive level, transcend industry. Leadership ability and expertise in driving process, efficiency and margin, for example, are fairly universal among qualified candidates.

Related: Assessment Tools to Play Bigger Role In Hiring

But while a candidate with strong industry experience may come with preconceived ways of operating, an outside hire has the potential to bring fresh perspective and best-in-class knowledge that can help drive an organization forward in new ways. “When seeking out your next executive, it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to industry experience,” said Robinson Resource Group. “At the end of the day, it’s much easier to back-train a strong business leader on a specific industry than it is to train an industry guru how to be a strong business leader.”

So What Does This All Mean?

“When hiring for executive level positions, there’s a tendency for organizations to place a disproportionate amount of focus on quantifiable experience that can be pulled directly from a resume,” said the report.


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“While this is a less-than-ideal hiring strategy at any time, today’s widespread recruiting challenges make it even more critical that organizations revisit their talent strategies to ensure that all untapped talent pools are being considered and exceptional talent is not being erroneously screened out,” the report said. “In difficult times, a more open-minded approach to hiring is not only a winning strategy, but a necessary survival skill.”

Recruiters Weigh In

Many ingredients go into finding the right individual for a specific leadership role. The key to a successful hire is finding the balance between the science of management assessment and the art, said Nancie Whitehouse, founder of the talent acquisition consulting firm Whitehouse Advisors.

“As a science, we establish core competencies for a prospective executive, assess the individual’s abilities against those competencies and predict how successful that individual might be,” she said. “As an art, we probe beyond the obvious and become attuned to an individual’s body language, behavior and personal chemistry in evaluating a prospective ‘fit’ with an organization. By finding a balance between ‘gut feel’ on one end and metrics on the other, we can develop a process that yields both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of internal or external candidates.”

Related: Big Challenges Ahead for Recruiting and Talent Sector

Scott Whipkey, CEO of Webster, NY-based recruiting firm Ascend Executive Search, said that one strategy his firm uses is to reverse-engineer the hiring process with their clients. “Start with asking what does success look like, two to three years out,” he said. “Focus on success of the company, rather than the business unit (KPIs).”

“Once we have a vision of success, the next question is what are the qualities that it takes to get there? Here we focus on the attributes that will most likely lead to that vision of success,” said Mr. Whipkey. “By starting at the end, not the beginning, great candidates don’t get screened out. And our clients find that by reverse-engineering the process, job-description check-boxes lose value, and it becomes easier to zero in on the bullseye.”

Things like advanced or specific educational degrees now hold less weight, as do things like title, industry, compensation, and specific experience, Mr. Whipkey pointed out. “As these attributes lose importance, the ‘intangibles’ become more critical. We don’t use the term ‘soft skills’, because there’s nothing soft about strong leadership, vision, executive presence, or credibility,” he said. “At Ascend we’ve even developed a scoresheet algorithm to measure the intangibles that our client has identified for a particular role.

Lastly, Mr. Whipkey said that it’s easier to begin a search by quantifying the tangible attributes (degrees, years of experience, industry, titles, etc.) and then weeding out those who don’t fit the given ‘profile’. “Starting a search ‘at the end’ is more difficult, but will actually take less time, and yield a much stronger shortlist,” he said. “And ultimately, our clients are thrilled to get the person best-equipped to help the company achieve their goals.”

Related: Seeking Talent, One Employee at a Time

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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