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Finding the ideal candidate for any job is never an easy task. Many hiring managers have had the experience of hiring someone who looks great on paper and even sounds great during the interview, but ultimately fails to deliver on the job.

While no one wants to experience this problem at any level of your organization, it can become even more of a crisis when you hire the wrong person for an executive-level role. We have all heard about organizations whose leadership took a wrong turn with catastrophic effects in the news. Executive staffing requires a whole new level of care and consideration.

As a headhunting firm, we’ve seen the hiring patterns that lead to successful (and unsuccessful) leadership many times. We believe the secret to executive staffing boils down to one thing: Research.

To give your organization the highest chance of executive staffing success, you need to do three types of research: Role research, ecosystem research, and candidate research.

Research the Executive Role

Executive Staffing

Candidate research isn’t the only kind of research you should do before you hire a new executive. It’s equally important to research the role. No two executive jobs are exactly the same, even if they have the same job title. 

Many hiring managers do not have a full grasp of everything the person in the executive role must do, nor of the ins and outs of the larger business. This is especially true for larger teams. For executive headhunting, the hiring team needs a deep understanding of these aspects of the job to find the right candidate.

Anyone who is involved in the hiring process should take the time to talk about the open role with other executives and members of the leadership team. They may also want to research typical requirements for the role on the internet. A good way to get your hiring team on the right track is to start by asking broad questions, such as:

  • Why is this role critical for our organization right now?
  • If the role is new, why are we adding it? If it’s not a new role, why are we keeping it?
  • How much will the person in this role interact with the public, donors or investors, existing leadership, and other employees?
  • What kinds of experiences or previous achievements are likely to demonstrate the potential for success in this role?
  • What kind of attitude would a person in this role need to bring to the table?
  • Are there any people in similar roles at other companies that are doing well, either people we know or people in the press? What makes them stand out in these roles?
  • What direction do we hope the person in this role will take the company?
  • What would it mean for the person in this role to be successful?

Answering questions like these can help you think out of the box and better understand what your organization needs. For example, if your organization hopes to go public soon, you may want to hire someone who has experience taking a company public. If you hope to launch a new product or service that disrupts your industry, you may want to look for an executive with that kind of experience.

With this starting framework, you can narrow down your candidate pool to the people who are most likely to lead your organization to success

Research the Best Places to Find Viable Candidates

Executive Staffing

With an executive role, you can’t just post a job ad on Indeed and expect to find the right person somewhere in the resulting influx of variable-quality resumes. The best candidates may not be actively looking for a new job, or if they are, they are likely to be searching somewhere else.

To do headhunting effectively, you need to define an ecosystem of where to search. In other words, you want to create a list of industries, brands, job titles, locations, organizations, associations, conferences, publications, certifications, degrees, and/or other possible indicators that someone could be a good candidate for your role.

For example, if you are hiring for an executive role focusing on a technology product, your search ecosystem might include:

  • People who have worked at other technology organizations with similar products in your search ecosystem.
  • People who have worked for similar-sized brands outside of technology and done remarkable work with a product in that industry that mirrors the kind of impact your organization hopes to make.
  • People in your area, as well as people from the Bay area, Seattle, and other cities where your industry is prominent. They may be looking to relocate, especially if they previously lived in your area.
  • People who have started technology-related podcasts, written books about technology, or spoken at recent conferences in your field.
  • People with a degree in a technology-related field or another field related to the position (although you shouldn’t limit your search to people with these degrees).
  • People who are part of professional organizations in your technology subfield.
  • People who have worked in NGOs and other organizations working to research products like yours or make changes similar to what your organization hopes to do.
  • People affiliated with well-respected educational institutions in your industry.
  • People who have demonstrated significant thought leadership in your technology subfield on social media platforms and through online articles.

Creating this ecosystem may require some difficult research, but it will enable you to cast a wider net that includes the people most likely to be a good fit for your executive position. You don’t have to limit yourself to candidates from direct competitors; there may be better candidates in places you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Recruiting from out-of-the-box backgrounds is even more important when your organization is trying to do something completely new. If no one in your field has experience with the product or service you are trying to develop, it’s likely better to search for innovative candidates outside your field than to scoop up candidates from your competitors who may not have had the kind of impact you want to make. Sometimes, a candidate’s experience outside your industry gives them a unique perspective that puts them in a better position to create positive change.

Once you have a better sense of your ideal candidate’s affiliations, you can start searching within networks affiliated with these characteristics. Think beyond LinkedIn — often, the best candidates come from professional networks and nurturing relationships with knowledgeable people inside and outside of your space.

If you need assistance with this type of research and networking, you may want to reach out to an executive staffing agency or headhunter for assistance.

Research the Executive Candidates

Executive Staffing

Finally, you will need to research the candidates you find. This process includes all of the research you likely already do for other job positions, such as:

  • Checking social media accounts for red flags
  • Checking personal references
  • Reviewing a candidate’s progression of positions throughout their career
  • Other background checks you typically do for other roles

During the interview process, you have the opportunity to do a different, more personal kind of research to learn more about each candidate you are considering. We suggest asking candidates about their professional goals and the reasons why they left prior jobs.

You may also want to consider using behavioral interview tactics. In a behavioral interview, the hiring team poses open-ended questions and statements to the candidate. This approach is a much better predictor of future on-the-job behavior than traditional interviews.

Ideally, you want to get an understanding of this executive candidates’ approach to situations your company may face. Asking them open-ended questions and bouncing ideas off of them will give you a better feel for how they may react in key situations on the job.

LG Resources Is the Perfect Partner to Help With Your Executive Staffing Research

If you feel overwhelmed by all this research, you’re not alone. There is an extensive amount of work involved even if you have several HR staff members dedicated to the hiring process. Many organizations find it helpful to hire an executive staffing agency to help with this research and provide exposure to a larger range of qualified contacts.

At LG Resources, we have extensive experience with staffing and headhunting at all levels, including headhunting for executive roles throughout the U.S. We have an extensive network of connections, and we are well-positioned to help you find someone with the unique characteristics you need. Contact us for assistance with your executive candidate search today.