How to Avoid Executive Hiring Mistakes

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Let’s face it – making the wrong appointment at any level is costly and frustrating. But at a senior management or executive level, the wrong person in the wrong job in the wrong company is just….well….VERY wrong!

Which everyone realizes, hence the laborious rounds of interviews, the psychometric assessments, the risk profiling, the reference checking, etc, in order to avoid expensive and potentially destructive mistakes.

The reality is – none of the above is a perfect tool for successful hiring. Of course, we know that both interviewing and reference checking are relatively subjective activities. And psychometric assessments….well, the companies that sell these would have us believe that their assessments can provide scientific answers about potential hires. But let’s think about it – if this was possible, there would never be any issues with under-performance, poor fit or lack of management and leadership skills.

So the bottom line is, there will always be a measure of risk when you take on a new hire. Here are some tips on how to minimise these risks as much as possible.

  1. Accept that there are NO PERFECT PEOPLE

Once you’ve stopped looking for the holy grail, you can manage your expectations. Because one of the biggest risks to a successful appointment is the gap between the wish list and the real thing (a live human being with imperfections that will require a measure of compromise).

  1. Look for patterns in performance, both good and bad

By the time a professional reaches senior management, he has usually had a few jobs in a few companies – so he’s moved about a bit. Which is a good thing, because you can then ask him the golden question – why did you leave? Ask this question for each career move or role change, and you’ll start to see some interesting and insightful patterns. You’ll spot the people who chase money, who leave on good or bad terms with their previous bosses/ companies, who have ‘issues’ or success stories. And when the answers don’t add up, there’s probably something fishy. So keep asking until you’re satisfied. Because the greatest chance of future success is determined by past success.

  1. Let candidates talk

Particularly when you’re not entirely sure. My strategy is to give candidates ‘enough rope…’ so to speak – and then wait for clarity to reveal itself. Which it will, if you have a bit of patience and time.

  1. Don’t be intimidated by great CV’s

I can’t recall the number of times in my very early career when I would be ‘impressed’ by a candidate prior to even entering the interview room. For some reason or another – usually their seniority, the amount of money they made, the prestigious companies they’d worked for, etc. And this would result in me NOT asking all the questions, NOT getting into the substance, and accepting weak or general answers instead of pushing hard for detail and specifics.

  1. Make sure that the appointment will be MUTUALLY beneficial

The key to a successful appointment is when both parties – the employer and the candidate – can see what’s in it for them, respectively. If you start wondering why the candidate is keen on the role (it’s a sideways move at best, the package upside is not going to be all that competitive, the challenges and growth may be limited, the demands of travel are going to be excessive, etc), you should be on the high alert for an appointment that will be short-lived. So the fact that a candidate may be able to ‘hit the ground running’ may not be as brilliant as you think….in the long term.

I hope you get some value out of these tips and that you never make a hiring mistake – ever!

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