Holding an executive-level position at a company comes with a lot of responsibility. Because of the importance of this position, there’s a lot at stake when organizations are hiring for open executive roles. Leaders who are hiring for a new executive need to know what they’re looking for and what type of person — and personality — can best fit the role.
To help, 15 industry leaders from Business Journals Leadership Trust share strategies leaders should employ when screening applicants for executive roles. Follow their advice the next time you’re hiring for a senior leadership position.
1. Understand the gap you need to fill.
Don’t just look for a clone of yourself. You have to understand the gaps in your organization in order to assess whether someone is going to be right in the role. You also have to be able to assess the strengths of the person you’re interviewing. Find ways to have them demonstrate that they can do the task at hand. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact
2. Look for what you don’t have.
In leaders, I’m looking for what I don’t have. I want people who make me better by providing the skill sets that I’m missing, allowing me to learn from them as much as I teach them. Being an entrepreneur is some of the most rewarding work in the world. Every day you get to solve problems and come up with unique strategies. I want people around me who share those values. – Timothy Haluszczak, SteelBridge Labs
3. Consider your company culture.
Hiring for values is important for every role, but especially so for an addition to your executive team. Years ago, I witnessed the founder/CEO of a quickly growing startup with an incredibly strong culture hiring a “pedigree” COO who promptly began mocking the company’s values behind the founder’s back. That COO was amazingly destructive in their short tenure. – Shannon Swift, Swift HR Solutions, Inc.
4. Include the whole leadership team in the process.
It’s important to gain buy-in from the other executives who will be collaborating with the new team member. A lunch meeting, for example, gives every member of the leadership team the opportunity to interact with the candidate in a nonthreatening setting. Executive hiring requires significant due diligence when it comes to uncovering hard and soft skills, and all members of leadership should be involved in the process. – Mark Zinman, Zinman & Company
5. Ensure the entire leadership team has confidence in the chosen candidate.
I cannot stress enough the importance of filling leadership roles with someone who fully encapsulates your company culture. They need to be the right person in the right seat. Make sure your entire leadership team is confident in the potential executive before moving forward with the hiring process. – E. Tanner Milne, Menlo Group Commercial Real Estate
6. Check references.
Go back to basics and check references. Go beyond confirming start and end dates. Ask in-depth questions such as “How would you describe their ability to navigate difficult conversations?” or “Tell me about a time you saw them rise above and beyond the call of duty.” The energy and enthusiasm behind the answers — as well as the in-depth nature of the answers themselves — will speak volumes. – Robin Throckmorton, strategic HR inc.
7. Have candidates prepare a presentation.
The interview process for executive positions should always include a presentation of some sort in front of a small group audience, lasting 30 to 45 minutes with 30 minutes of Q&A. This can give you wonderful insight into how the candidate processes information, communicates to a diverse audience and handles being in the hot seat. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners
8. Conduct personality assessments.
Working well with the larger executive team and being a great leader are important traits. Personality assessments can help supplement interviews, referrals and the standard interview process to help support your hiring decision and ensure the new hire aligns with company culture and can promote the good of the entire team. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
9. Evaluate multiple criteria.
When screening applicants for new roles in the company — especially if it’s an executive position — I would look for a few main things. These include whether the candidate is capable of doing the job right away, whether they are committed to staying with the company for a long time, and whether they are culturally fit to be a part of the team. If these three criteria are met, they are a good fit. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
10. Look beyond résumé qualifications.
Your executives are the ambassadors of your company. Don’t just consider qualifications when screening applicants for executive roles. The key is to look for like-minded individuals who share the same cultural and strategic values. Your company executives should be able to understand and embody your company’s core values, culture, vision and mission. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting
11. Test candidates’ communication skills.
Communication skills are key, so make them present their case to the leadership group. Ask tough questions in quick succession to see how they react in stressful situations. These situations give insight into their instincts and whether or not those instincts match the company culture. Hiring someone for a leadership role without seeing how they react to stress can lead to an expensive disaster. – Tom Jaleski, Code Unlimited LLC
12. Consider their emotional intelligence.
Interview, in part, for emotional intelligence. Understanding and managing one’s own emotions, as well as having a keen sensitivity for and interest in the emotions of others, is essential today — particularly so in today’s uncertain and chaotic reality. EQ is the single biggest predictor of performance in almost every industry. If execs can’t relate to, lead and learn from others, that’s a hard pass. – Bill Dickinson, C3 Leadership, LLC
13. See how they engage with others.
Put potential leaders into situations that allow you to see how they engage and respond to other humans. Meet for coffee or grab lunch — when it’s safe — and observe how the candidate reacts to the barista or the server. How they treat service team members is a good indication of how they will treat employees. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.
14. Evaluate their passion and soft skills.
Along with skills and experience, considering how an applicant would align with the culture of your company is crucial. While an individual might meet all the requirements on your checklist, if the applicant’s passion and soft skills are drastically different from the culture you are trying to create, they might not be the best fit for your company. – Jawad Shaikh, Avelead
15. Don’t rush the process.
Never hire just to have a warm body. Sometimes finding the perfect individual with the experience, knowledge, vision and personality to fit the team is a long and tedious process, but it is worth it in the end. There will always be regrets if you settle for second-best, and you’ll end up with more problems to deal with down the road that could have been avoided. – Kelly Van Sande, Ignite Learning Academy