It’s amazing how clear the view is from the other side of the fence. After years as a media executive, I’ve recently become an executive recruiter. While you might find the story of my personal transformation interesting, you’ll really want to know what I’ve learned. (Spoiler alert: I made all these mistakes as an operator.)
Here are The Top Five Mistakes Companies Make When Recruiting Executives.
- Goal Confusion
Many companies, large and small, don’t know specifically what they’re trying to accomplish with an executive hire. The boards or executives at these companies haven’t put in the hard work of getting detailed about what they want this executive to do.
- An early-stage company wants a revenue executive but lacks clarity about its customer use case.
- A growth company wants a technology executive but hasn’t prioritized between scaling the stack and driving the product set.
- The CEO wants a disruptive CMO but the COO wants an operator.
The result: A long, dragged-out—and sometimes broken—search process that yields executives unprepared to create value.
- Underestimating the Challenge
Hiring good executives is hard, really hard. And finding and hiring transformational talent is even harder. No matter how big your personal network may be or how confident your internal recruiters may be, finding the 150 or even five best potential candidates for a given role and working the process through to an accepted offer is as difficult as any sales process in any industry.
The result: Executives waste precious months of their own time, miss opportunities, and rarely produce a lasting result.
- Underestimating the Challenge, Part 2
Hiring executives at hot companies or well-known brands assume everyone wants to work for them. While that assumption is totally understandable from a human psychology point of view, it’s is a fallacy and puts the hiring company at a competitive disadvantage. Successfully recruiting rock star talent requires a thoughtful and aggressive go-to-market approach.
The result: Weak collateral or an inept recruiter phone pitch will likely turn off an executive with the potential to transform your business. Again, it’s human psychology: it’s easier to say no.
- Search Firm Assumptions, Part 1
Many executives think they know how search firms operate. They assume there’s some kind of secret list or magic that differentiates firms. But there’s no magic. What differentiates firms is the same thing that differentiates executives: IQ, EQ, experience, approach, and lots of hard work.
The result: Companies hire the wrong firms, searches are protracted, the new executives don’t stick, and sometimes searches fail altogether.
- Search Firm Assumptions, Part 2
Executive search scales in the same way that Special Forces operations scale: not at all. Reputable search firms, large and small, today all have roughly the same weapons. If you’re going after a high value target, you want Seal Team Six.
The result: Picking a firm based on anything other than specific track record and references means choosing a firm focused on their own margins and not your company’s future.
The solutions to the above are basically about being thoughtful and deliberate about executive talent. What specifically does a new executive need to accomplish? How does work get done in your company? Who are the influencers? And which firm can prove that will invest the effort and has the track record needed to be a real partner and deliver results.
Whether a company has revenues less than $5 million, is a $100 million high flyer at an inflection point, or is a public company trying to drive growth, the most critical success factor is talent. From where I’m sitting now, those insights—put into action—is what separates great from merely good companies.