If you’re like many companies, you’re disappointed with your executive hiring strategy. You consistently hire all-stars on paper. They’ve attended Ivy League universities, have proven track records of success, and are flowered with rave peer reviews. Yet despite being able to talk the talk and walk the walk, your hires fail to live up to your expectations after they join your company. You’re certainly not alone. The struggle is ever-present in Corporate America. A Harvard Business Review article reveals that the 18-month failure rate of executives who join new companies ranges from 30% to 40%! From executive recruiting fees and hiring costs to declines in employee engagement and performance levels, the associated costs for hiring are enormous.
As an executive, it’s imperative to recognize that traditional recruiting strategies are suboptimal, especially when it comes to hiring executives. If you’re intent on boosting retention and performance levels among executive hires, you must redefine traditional hiring processes.
1. Focus on emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) ought to be at the forefront of your executive hiring processes. Research consistently shows that EQ trumps IQ when it comes to executive and leadership performance. Unfortunately, 30% of HR managers believe that most employers put too little emphasis on emotional intelligence during the hiring process, according to research by OfficeTeam.
Far too often evaluators rely on behavioral-based interview questions as part of hiring processes. Candidates are asked to describe how they handled a smorgasbord of different situations (“Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.”, for example). These questions are often misleading and don’t cut to the heart of emotional intelligence.
Throughout the interview process, you need to focus on assessing how well candidates relate to others. Does the candidate engage in small talk with the office assistant as she enters the building? While sitting in the waiting room, does the candidate have his nose in his smartphone or is he watching people and reading signage and brochures to learn more about the company culture? During interviews, does the candidate’s body language indicate that she is listening attentively or unengaged and distracted? Gather feedback from people the candidate interacts with in passing, and listen to your gut…how do you feel when you are “off script” with the candidate? These can all be tell-tale signs of the candidate's emotional intelligence levels.
2. Try before you buy
I often advise my clients to take candidates on "test drives" before hiring, if possible. Ask the candidate to consider acting as an interim executive for 3-6 months, before considering whether to offer the position. This “try before you buy” or “temp to hire” strategy is becoming more common, and sometimes at the request of the candidate who him/herself wants to make sure the fit is right. Placement agencies like this approach as well, as it serves their client and their candidate (and they can obtain a massive conversion fee if you don’t negotiate it.) In any case, the point is, as an executive, you should create mechanisms for viewing a candidate in action.
Ashkenas proposes several other potential mechanisms. “Ask the recruit to make a presentation; give the candidate a problem situation and ask her to develop a range of solutions and a summary memo; conduct a role play on how to deal with a difficult employee; or ask the person to facilitate a meeting with several other managers on a particular topic.” The ultimate objective is to obtain a strong sense of how passionate candidates are about the role, how well they align with your company culture, and how strongly they exude your values.
Written tests can also prove extremely effective during the hiring process. Written skills are a highly sought-after trait in executives. Research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 73% of employers seek candidates who exhibit strong written communication skills. In fact, written communication ranks as the third most desired quality among employees (behind leadership skills and ability to work as a team member.) You should ask candidates to prepare memos, briefs, or short presentations and evaluate how well they are able to influence and persuade their audience and organize their thoughts.
3. Leverage psychometric testing
More and more companies have opted to incorporate psychometric tests as part of the executive hiring process as a means of evaluating candidates' personalities. Psychometric testing can be an effective supplement to traditional hiring tactics. Whitney Martin, Measurement Strategist at ProActive Consulting, cautions, “[I]f your hiring process relies primarily on interviews, reference checks, and personality tests, you are choosing to use a process that is significantly less effective than it could be if more effective measures were incorporated.” Many executive coaches (including myself) are certified in administering a host of personality and process tests including, for example, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator and the 5 Dynamics Model.
Unfortunately, psychometric tests are often seen as an invasion of privacy and an abuse of power since executive recruiting firms don’t typically have an obligation to share results with candidates. I always recommend that employers share results with candidates, regardless of whether they are ultimately hired. Candidates can reap enormous benefits from the findings, insights, and recommendations revealed by psychometric test reports. Top performing companies are recognizing the value of turning the traditional executive hiring model on its head. As an executive, it’s important that you recognize that resumes and behavioral-based interview questions are no longer sufficient in revealing tomorrow’s executive leaders and success stories. Recall Steve Jobs' wise words, “The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world."
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at