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The insights here about the differences between hiring into senior, exec type roles and the rest, are for you if you’re new to hiring into senior roles or have limited experience doing so.

Hiring into senior roles has many nuances and subtle differences than doing so into regular jobs.

Robert Tearle has recruited and headhunted several hundreds of people at all levels of seniority, in this article, he is sharing with you some of his insights.

1 It’s more strategic
2 Key qualities of Leaders
3 Soundings are critical
4 Requires a more sophisticated approach
5 Greater confidentiality is required
6 Timescales are longer
7 Conclusion


The differences between hiring Execs and individual contributors.

1. It’s more strategic

The more senior the hire, the more likely the role will involve shaping the strategy of the business rather than implementing it – doing the right thing rather than doing things right… It’s more about strategic versus tactical objectives. Remits might include high impact, long term initiatives such as buying other companies, pursuing organic growth or selling the business i.e. CXO and senior management remits are likely to be shaped by a company’s agenda:

Buy     |     Sell     |     Grow

Individual contributors might focus on short-term objectives such as new sales initiatives, supplier consolidation, improving service outcomes or implementing the more rigid process. Exec hiring requirements are often heavily shaped by pressing business challenges at the particular time of hiring and the circumstances by which the vacancy has arisen. The replacement of a top performer who has resigned and whose business was well run is often different to that of someone who’s been kicked out for failing to perform and leading a business unit in poor shape.

At different times organisations will face different challenges such as:

Accelerated growth    |     Change     |     Crisis
Turnaround     |     Employee engagement

These will invariably shape the hiring requirement.

Senior roles are more likely to be focused on multi-year goals whereas individual contributor roles on in-year goals ~ the tactical objectives of what needs to be accomplished in the here and the now.

12 months     |     24 months     |     36 months     |     5 years     |     10 year

The performance of an organisation depends entirely on the performance of the relevant executive. And the more senior the role, the greater the ripple effect of how that person’s performance has an implication throughout their business/business unit and indeed across others.

The more senior the hire, the greater the ripple effect…

The output of an executive is the output of his or her organization.

On a practical basis, this ripple effect can be expected to translate into bottom-line business performance, brought about through positive or negative impact on revenues, costs, profit and ultimately the return on investment to the business owner/shareholders.

This example illustrates the ripple effect:

Our theoretical example here is based on a small business.

The concept based on each worker contributing 100K gross profit, each manager having 8 reports, each second line manager having 3 direct reports, a Senior Director / VP having 3 reports and a CEO having 5 reports.


Impact on business performance:

  • Assuming a CEO impacts performance positively or negatively by 20%. His or her impact on business performance would have a variance of 6M.
  • At senior levels, the impact upon business performance can vary by as much as 40%! A successful appointment may result in a positive impact on the business of up to 20%, while conversely, a poor one could be minus 20%! The more senior the appointment the greater the stakes, which is one of the reasons why head-hunting is so highly valued. It is often said that people leave managers not companies.
  • Leadership style and the values of the leader are crucial. You want someone who is going to be a magnet to attract the best people into your business and inspire your most valued people, your existing high achievers and rising stars. A poor leader and one whose values are not correctly aligned may result in a gradual exodus of your best talents.


The larger the company the greater the ripple effect and also the longer it will take for a senior manager or C suite exec to have an impact on the business.


2. Leadership qualities

The next issue associated with hiring senior execs is the qualities required in respect of determining and shaping strategy, and how to look for them. You need to examine six indicators that would reveal a candidate’s true value: results, performance, relationships, leadership qualities, emotional intelligence and growth potential. And do be aware that results and performance are not necessarily the same thing.

  • Integrity, responsibility, and emotional intelligence: The world has been changing, investors and business owners are keen to manage and develop their businesses with responsibility. Integrity is high on their agenda. Leaders with high EI are 40% more successful than those with low EI. The more senior the role, the greater the impact of emotional intelligence across the entire business performance.

There are five dimensions that shape how professionals apply emotional intelligence, wisely or poorly, when making decisions in management and in leadership. These are:

Self-awareness | Self-management | Social awareness | Social management | Motivations

  • Relationships:

The ability of senior executives to develop, value and nurture mature relationships in order to create an effective people network will often ‘make or break’ their success in the role. Crucial to this ability is emotional intelligence aka EI.

  • ‘A’ player leadership quality:

The four ‘E’s of leadership: high in Energy, the ability to Energise others, the Edge to make difficult decisions and the ability to Execute or deliver on the promise.

  • Results:

Hiring decisions are largely made based on candidates’ previous results. However, you need to distinguish between the impact the person had on results (negative or positive) through the choices and decisions they made. Someone may have performed poorly in a business that was doing well and camouflaged their failure. Conversely, someone may have performed well in a company that failed through no fault of their own.

  • Performance:

Looking into the past. You should look to determine the persons’ impact on results. To what extent if any, did the candidate actually influence business outcomes. Can their success be attributed to them or simply being in the right place? Looking into the future. Ask how they might take the business forward, either in the form of Q&A at the interview, or a request to present a mini business plan at the second or third interview stage. You need to determine how they may approach the role, and what results you might expect.

  • Growth potential:

You need to assess not just their competence to undertake the current requirements, but their ability to grow with you as your needs and challenges change.



3. It’s more critical that you take up soundings

What’s a sounding? A sounding is taking up an informal reference or opinion of someone to get an inside line on them or validate a point of view.

One option is to seek a candidate’s approval to take up a sounding when you have reached an advanced stage in the interview process. Assuming the person is employed you may wish to ask them to offer up a referee who they previously worked for, at a previous employer or perhaps a boss who has left their current employer.

Another option is to take up a sounding without seeking the candidates’ approval, in such a situation, you need to be extremely careful that you don’t expose the fact that the candidate is interviewing with you. Obviously, if word got back to their existing employer that they are interviewing for positions elsewhere, you’ve compromised their commitment, reputation and employment.

Soundings can be generic…

What do you make of them?’ ‘How were they regarded?’ How would you describe their leadership style? To what extent did others buy into their ideas?

Or specific to the needs of the opening…

What was the nature of his or her involvement with the restructuring project or turnaround of the business?’

Soundings provide insights into a candidate’s character.

Often soundings give you a strong insight into a candidate’s character, decision making and emotional intelligence (EI).

Invariably, the person giving the reference will often end up subconsciously alluding to someone’s EI.

Don’t expect to get 15 mins of a referees time. Plan on just 5 mins however…

Often, they’ll say they’ve only got 5 mins and give you 15.

If you have retained a headhunter/headhunting firm, they’ll be able to help you with this. In the context of two things:

  • Firstly, when they are sourcing candidates, they’re able to call people in their network and say I’ve got “ABC” and “XYZ” on my radar as prospective candidates, what do you make of them? NB, this is not saying that the person is interviewing for a job.
  • Secondly, any accomplished headhunter will be familiar with how to take up a reference in a confidential and non-exposing way.

Taking up a sounding can help you validate a decision and understand how to manage a new hire best, get the best out of them, and support them best.


4. Requires a more sophisticated approach

When hiring a senior exec, it requires a more sophisticated approach.

  • It’s a bigger decision for you, and a bigger decision for them. And the latter should not be underestimated.
  • Hiring people into senior roles requires considerable tact.
  • Senior execs do not respond well to a direct approach with concerns around confidentiality issues.
  • Many employed execs would not entertain a direct dialogue, particularly when coming from a direct competitor or within business areas most closely aligned to their industry, i.e. most likely your preferred candidate background and the primary hunting ground.
  • They are more challenging to get hold of.
  • If you’re working with a head-hunter, you’ll find they’re able to act as a sounding board, helping you to shape your requirement and becoming the second set of eyes and ears. Often, they’ll be able to take up soundings and help you get the inside line on a candidate.

The opportunity must be positioned well. After all, the more senior the role, the smaller the talent pool. You need to properly think out why a smart in-demand exec should want to take up this job and how you will position the opportunity to them.

Many people are familiar with hiring active job seekers.

But it’s a different game when it comes to signing up an employed high achiever.

Someone who is a high performing individual, who’s well integrated and well respected in their existing employment needs to be courted in a diplomatic and engaging manner. Often you’ll need to develop their interest to get them to the interview table, and to maintain their interest level.

Few are familiar with hiring people who may be heads down and happy – you need to tune into the applicant’s point of view and appreciate there are two perspectives.

Engaging with senior execs is more complex. Obviously, this is one of the critical areas in which professional headhunters add value.

And the whole process needs to be handled with sophistication and in a balanced manner. Many CXO types have little or no tolerance for a thorough examination, which is even more pronounced with those who are not actively looking.

If you want to land an “A” player candidate, you’ll want the candidate to interact with an “A” player hiring team.

So, field a good hiring team.


5. Greater confidentiality is required

Is it a ‘cloak and dagger’ situation?

This is when an incumbent job holder needs to be replaced, and a candidate lined up in advance of that person being let go. 

  • Perhaps someone isn’t performing well in their role, maybe they are failing to meet targets or objectives, have poor leadership skills or may not have the qualities required to take their business or dept to the next level.
  • In such instances, headhunters are widely commissioned to seek out a new hire confidently without the incumbent being aware that they are being replaced.
  • This is because headhunters can identify and approach prospective candidates without revealing a clients’ company name!
  • They’re able to enter into a dialogue with prospective candidates to qualify an individual’s skills and abilities (do they have the qualities required of the job) and identify a candidate’s situation and motivations.
  • Enabling them to pre-qualify the suitability and interest of candidates and generate a shortlist without the incumbent job holder becoming aware they are to be replaced.
  • In contrast, an employer placing an advert or directly calling people may very well result in the incumbent being aware their job is being advertised or recruited into.


6. Timescales are longer
  • Hiring cycles are longer for senior execs, and the whole process is more time-consuming.
  • Senior people have less time than others. Their diaries are fuller, there are more demands on them, and they have more responsibilities. Getting time in diaries will be difficult on both sides, and at senior levels, changes to appointments are often more likely.
  • There is more caution on both sides. Decisions are not rushed at senior levels, and there tend to be more stages to go through.
  • Notice periods are often three or six months. And execs often want to complete a project before moving on. You need to pay attention to this at an early stage in the interview process when considering a candidates merits and what you want!
  • When hiring into regular jobs recruiting cycles may be under 4 weeks. This may be 4 to 8 weeks or more for specialist roles and senior/exec roles, perhaps 3 to 6 months.


7. Conclusion   

Senior hires are more strategic and so when hiring into them, you need to think about your mid and long term goals, not just your short term ones.

If the role reports into you – then you need to take ownership for making the right decision, this means not only seeking the opinions of others and properly thinking them over but also making sure you’ve got to know your prospective hire well enough. To do so,

You’ll probably meet with the candidate 3 or more times, one or more of these interactions could be a phone call – they’re often more practical, and quicker to get set up and completed.

You need to tune into a senior hires character and abilities at a deeper level!

At an advanced stage, why not take up a sounding, do so before getting to an offer stage. You could speak with a former employer/boss.

The best candidates are those who are most sought after and most likely to be counter-offered! Building interest and confidence throughout the interview process is necessary.

If you’re replacing a senior exec and want a replacement lined up, it’s a no brainer, using a headhunter is likely to be your best option.

Timescales are longer, you’ll probably need to be conscious to approach the process with a sense of urgency to avoid it becoming a long, drawn-out and distracting process.

Robert Tearle Consulting is a boutique headhunting firm. Our clients are SaaS/digital/tech vendors. Typically, early-stage or looking to enter an accelerated growth phase. Positions recruited into include CXO, Sales, Consulting and Marketing based in the UK, USA and Central & Western Europe.

Impacting business operations and growing revenue through headhunting.

Find out more. Contact us now. +44 7843 277774