Hiring, Recruitment, Sourcing

Quick Start Guide to Hiring Effective Executives

© 2012 Johanna Rothman 

The good news is your company is growing. The bad news is time to bring in more executive management.

Why is that bad news? Because you need to retain the culture and the “feel” of the organization.

Things are humming along, but you can see the problems starting to arise. If you don’t get someone good in soon, those little problems will bubble over and you’ll end up with bigger ones.

But hiring a senior manager can be fraught with danger.

How can you hire a great one?

You want to evaluate a potential candidate in 3 ways:

  • How well does the potential executive solve key problems?
  • How well does the potential executive fit in with the rest of senior management?
  • How well does he fit in with the overall company culture and the people who will directly report to him or her?

I’m assuming you’ve already analyzed the job, reviewed resumes, and phone screened people. You’ve already eliminated the obvious non-starter candidates.

Now, you’ve got the people who might be a fit. How can you effectively choose who you will hire for the executive position?

I. Identify problem-solving experience

Tip:  walk the candidate around and ask for his or her impressions.

“What do you see here?”

Any project should have project dashboards or key performance indicators. I would expect a senior technical manager to ask about them and where they are. I would expect to have a discussion about the information on them.

Try to open conversations about management issues critical to your organization such as how people collaborate across the organization.

Then lead the discussion to the big question:

“How have you solved problems similar to ours?”

You should hear a grounded-in-experience answer.

You should hear recent experience.

Let the candidate talk for as long as he or she wants. You should hear a grounded-in-experience answer. If not, release the candidate from consideration.

You should hear recent experience. If not, how long ago was the experience? If the experience is too far in the past, release the candidate.

Refrain from asking “How would you solve problems such as ours?” as this doesn’t showcase their hands-on experience.

II. Test Senior Management Chemistry

Tip: Arrange for a few executives in your organization to spend time with this candidate. 

Let them discuss topics related to key industry issues & executive challenges: leadership, coaching, project management or succession management.

Each executive interviewer should have a couple of prepared questions and allow the interview to flow into a conversation. These questions will be based on the value the manager is expected to bring to the organization.

If anyone on the executive team is thumbs down, do not hire the potential candidate (or hire with caution).

III. Assess Culture Fit

Tip: Let the candidate tell his story & share his values-avoid interrupting!

Ask questions about integrity such as, “Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult choice about which action to pursue. What were your choices and why was the choice difficult?”

Sit back and listen. With behavior-description questions, you are asking people to tell you the stories of their careers. They have to remember the circumstances. If you want people to remember correctly and tell you, do not interrupt!

Depending on your culture, decide how you will take information from the executive’s team. Will they have a say in their new manager? It depends on how open your culture is.

And to make sure you choose the right questions and right people to help you evaluate the candidate, make sure you do these 3 steps:

  • First, decide on the value the manager needs to bring to the organization.
  • Next, make sure you do a job analysis before you write a job description.
  • Use that job analysis to derive your behavior-description and cultural fit questions.

Additional Vistage Resources

Additional resources to consider during the recruitment and hiring process are Marcus Buckingham’s article on how to attract the right people to your company and Mark Moses’ article on making sure you have the right people in the right jobs.

Do you have some tips to share for growing organizations to avoid costly executive hiring mistakes?

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Category: Hiring, Recruitment, Sourcing

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About the Author: Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman is a Management Consultant with http://www.jrothman.com/ She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.  Johanna consults, speaks, and trains about all aspects of managing product development.  Her focus is on…

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  1. Great ideas Johanna, though your last point may require a bit more depth.

    How does one understand the current cultural landscape? Behavior of a certain individual… or asking those questions doesn’t necessarily mean they will fit into your business cultural context. <- That requires a ton more work, research and analytics.

    Chemistry aside, there are a plethora of considerations that can (never) be covered in an interview. I would say, you cannot know, truly, whether a candidate fits into a culture based of an interview. It takes a deeper dive into behavior analysis and personality that requires surveys/assessments.

    -Peter Saddington

    • Peter, I wouldn’t do a survey or a psychometric assessment. I would,
      however, do an audition. Especially with a senior exec, you wouldn’t do a
      one-shot interview. An in-depth interview requires planning, and
      crafting an audition. And the kind of audition requires knowing what value you want the exec to bring.

      Do you want the exec to deal primarily with customers? Or to work with the rest of the exec team on implementing strategy with the product development group? Or, maybe to lead the sales team or create the online strategy? All totally different auditions.

      Your culture is how you and your organization agrees on what you can discuss, what the organization rewards, and how people treat each other. If you have identified what your organization’s culture is (and I walk you through that in Hiring Geeks That Fit), then you can craft an interview and audition that fits for the exec.

      It’s work. But if you invest in crafting the questions and the audition, your cost-to-hire will be worth it.

  2. I’m not an HR person, but do you agree performance-based interviews are not enough in assessing cultural fit? Are assessment tools (usually proprietary products of recruitment firms needed?)

    *What is the current industry standard for assessing cultural fit for fast-growing organizations? What combination of tools or methods are considered high standard or best practices today?

    • Hi Jon,

      I’m suspicious of proprietary assessment tools. I don’t believe in them. I believe that they are a way to soak the client and bias the client.

      You have to assess your own culture. It’s hard work. Your culture is:

      * What people can discuss
      * What the organization rewards
      * How people treat each other

      I discuss this in Hiring Geeks That Fit, and explain in the chapter about hiring managers how to assess managers.

      I don’t know if you looked at my blog post below in my second response to Peter where I posted the link to creating auditions.

      There are no shortcuts. A tool such as an assessment is a shortcut. An audition is not. Meta-questions are not. Having the candidate spend time with people at several levels of the organization is not a shortcut. Having an exec candidate only spend time with execs is a shortcut.

      Hiring execs is expensive. Don’t use shortcuts!

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