Acing the Final Interviewing Hurdle!

These days, no one gets appointed to a job after one interview…..no matter how senior or junior the role, there is a process to follow.

Meet the line manager, meet the other ‘dotted’ reporting lines in the matrix, meet the other members of the management team (peers), meet the direct reports, meet the representatives from the divisions where there will be interaction, and then (just when you think it’s all over)…. meet a few other interested stakeholders.

Then after everyone agrees that the candidate is perfectly suitable, there is some form of psychometric assessment (these can range from a quickie online, to several days of high pressure testing). And then, if the candidate miraculously manages to pass through all of this, sometimes a final test awaits……the Panel Presentation!

The presentation topic is sent to the candidate at least a few days prior to the interview so that one can do some research and prepare ‘at leisure’. Don’t be lulled into believing that this is going to be a walk in the park, because it’s at this final phase of the interviewing process that candidates actually prove themselves truly worthy…..or not!

After some analysis of the success and failures, I can provide some pointers to candidates facing this final hurdle:

  1. It’s NOT about how great a presenter you are (although a crash course at Dale Carnegie won’t do any harm)
  2. It’s NOT about how brilliant the content is (but you will need to be above average, at least)
  3. It IS about your confidence and ease in an often stressful situation (we recently had finalist candidates be required to present to a full Board of 15 people).
  4. It IS about demonstrating your strategic thought process and ability to think on your feet.
  5. And it DEFINITELY IS about doing your research on the company, its philosophy or mission, its people, products, competitors, etc. Even if the presentation does not require you to engage on these topics, NOT knowing enough about the company could be the ultimate deciding factor.

Now go ace that final interview!

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Are you losing your cache in attracting talent?

With over 20 years in the executive search business we have seen many shifts and trends in how companies are perceived by the talent they look to attract. None is more concerning than the loss of cache that seems to be occurring with some of the biggest names across many industries.

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The reasons can be quite varied ranging from loss of leadership positioning due to more intense competition; poor stock or management performance reports; stigma by association to industries that have undergone reputational loss; lacking focus on innovation; seeming to be mired in old ways of doing things; high turnover that gives a “churn and burn” impression – and one that we are seeing more and more –  constant reorganizations that, while done for the right business reasons, are not well communicated and give the external impression that things are not stable.

A look at some of the top names in their respective industries on glassdoor.com is startling in that it reveals that the ratings for employee satisfaction are quite poor – and the reasons for the low ratings are often tied to constant restructuring.  “It’s OK” seems to have become the new acceptable standard for employee satisfaction. If that’s the best that the people working for the company can say about it, why would a high quality prospect be interested in joining the company?

We’ve seen an increasing challenge in attracting executive talent to top tier companies and have had to put much greater emphasis on selling the opportunities and dispelling the misconceptions prospects may have than was previously the case – the brand often no longer holds the same appeal that it did in the past. Often top tier companies have lost sight of how their employer brand is perceived in the market and are surprised that the calibre of people they want are not clamouring for their job.

One client that recently engaged us to find them a VP of Marketing was surprised that they had to engage an executive search firm as they felt they had a marketer’s dream job on offer. They had posted the assignment on multiple industry sites and, while receiving hundreds of applications, did not deem any of them worth an interview. They were attracting lots of people but not of the quality they were looking for. When we reached out and spoke to senior marketers the initial response was lukewarm. The market perception was that the company had gone through so many reorganizations that it was seen as no longer being a stable place to work. The question back to us was – why should I consider moving from a company where I am challenged and valued to a situation I see as risky? This was only aggravated by the “cattle call” approach the client previously took to looking for this senior executive. While we were happy to get the assignment, our work was certainly made harder by these circumstances.

We’re seeing this more and more – companies that are still trading strictly on their market dominance and not realizing that they have lost their cache as an employer. They continue to approach talent acquisition from the perspective of a “buyer” and an attitude that everyone would want to work here.  That’s why they are so frequently surprised that they are not attracting the caliber of talent they want when they go to market directly. Attracting top talent is a sales process from end to end and requires presenting a compelling story, often correcting market perceptions, about the company and the opportunity.

Global Executive Placement Trends….turning away at the altar!

One would think that in a time of tough-ish, tight-ish global markets, where GREAT executive positions with fantastic companies, excellent prospects, and wonderful career challenges are not exactly hanging on trees, that executive candidates would be lining up, desperate to sign on the dotted line when a really GOOD opportunity arises.

Well, think again!

It seems that while high level candidates are as willing as ever to play the dating game, and invest time and energy in the courting process, when it comes to actually taking the plunge and accepting a job offer, execs are  often taking an approach of ‘better the devil you know’, and remaining with their current employer.

WHY is this happening, you ask????

It seems that the impact of the ongoing (it’s been 5 years or so, now) tough-ish, tight-ish global markets is a high level of fear and uncertainty amongst those who have the most to lose by making the wrong career move – senior managers, directors and other C-suite professionals.

And considering that most top players are in senior roles at the time of engaging with a new prospective employer – ie. they have jobs! – when it comes down the wire, they are often either accepting counteroffers, or outright declining a new offer, more frequently than has happened in the relatively recent past.

Interestingly, it became evident at a recent IRC Global Executive Search Partners conference, that this trend is not limited to Canada – it’s global!

More importantly, though, is what we and our corporate clients can do to deal with this trend, and ensure the successful conclusion of top appointments?

The following will go a LONG way to reversing the trend:

  1. Make a GREAT offer – not just a marginal one!
  2. Ensure that the interview process is thorough, but also swift, seamless and faultlessly executed.
  3. Keep ‘selling’ the opportunity – this is not the time to be expecting headhunted candidates to tell you why they so desperately want to work for your company.
  4. Go the extra mile – invest in the process personally, and do not outsource the final stages to administrators alone.

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With these strategies to counter the counter, we’ll win this battle together!

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!

How to turn off a headhunted candidate

In the last while I’ve had some interesting feedback from candidates after their first, second, third (or in some cases sixth or seventh) interview with a prospective new employer…..along with a bit of a moan from them about ‘stuff’.

The ‘stuff’ includes such petrifying experiences as being kept waiting in the reception area before being seated in a meeting room – headhunted candidates are usually VERY concerned about confidentiality, as they should be, and it is potentially career limiting to be seen by someone you know in the lobby. Try as you will, there is no mistaking the pre-interview ‘aura’ – any alert person can pick this up – and so paranoia about waiting out in the open is a pretty valid emotion!

shutterstock_122625739Being kept waiting beyond the appointed interview time is one of the biggest pet peeves of headhunted candidates. They are business people that made the effort to be there on time and keeping them waiting sends the signal that your time is more important than theirs. And even more irritating is being blasé about having kept them waiting.

Then, there is the ‘read the CV’ grumble! By the time the headhunted candidate is on to their second or third interview with (usually) various individuals from the executive team, he/she has an expectation that a) they will have read their CV, and b) they will have conferred amongst themselves regarding which questions have been asked and answered so that the same slew of questions and answers are not repeated in each meeting. A pretty reasonable expectation, one would think?

Another little aggravation is the inevitable interview question ‘So why do you want to leave your current company?’. This particular question may seem completely innocuous and without any malicious or negative intent…but if there’s one thing that gets the headhunted candidate’s blood to boil, it’s this one! And assuming that everyone in the room (and on the interviewing panel) knows that the candidate has, in fact, been approached by an executive search firm (yours truly), this would also seem understandably annoying.

So here’s the thing – companies spend LOTS of money, time and effort trying to woo top people to their organisations. They strategise, they plan, they commit the time of their executive team to the interview process, they utilize the services of the best headhunters around to bring the best talent to them. And then ‘stuff’ happens in the interviewing process that turns the candidates from interested to off!

Of course, savvy companies have the interview process so waxed that headhunted candidates can’t wait to sign on the dotted line.