“Candidate experience” is a hot topic in talent acquisition. In recent years, this aspect of recruitment has come to the forefront mainly due to the widespread competition for good talent and the impersonalization of hiring, in general, with advancements made in technology. In its entirety, the candidate experience spans from initial communication through the onboarding process. While it’s important to provide a positive candidate experience for all levels within your organization, it is imperative when attracting executives for high-level roles.
It’s easy to understand that candidates who are at an executive level are highly discerning when considering new career opportunities. In many instances, they are not actively seeking new positions and are being recruited through a third-party recruiter or executive search firm on behalf of the prospective employer. They are passive candidates, and therefore, their experience commands much more thought and attention than active job seekers.
According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, 78% of candidates say the overall candidate experience is an indicator of how a company values its people. Other research has found that the experience translates to other aspects of an organization, such as its culture, and the efficiency and quality of its internal operations. Knowing CareerBuilder’s results were based on responses by a variety of professionals and hiring managers, one can imagine how important the candidate experience is for executives – and for your organization. If you’re not able to provide a positive experience and attract and secure talented executives, how would that impact your firm’s reputation, growth, and success?
Tom Helbling, President of Helbling & Associates, has been an executive search consultant within the construction, real estate development, and facilities management sectors for nearly 40 years. He says, “Providing a positive candidate experience is imperative for attracting an executive. After all, many executives are passive and not actively seeking new opportunities. These professionals are astute to how an organization handles a recruitment process, and it has a significant impact on their decision. If they are willing to talk and listen, an organization needs to be prepared to begin attracting them at the onset of process, which is the beginning of their candidate experience and spans the course of the entire recruitment process through onboarding.”
When recruiting executive candidates, there are many things to address prior to and during recruitment to support a positive candidate experience.
Consider the role’s responsibilities, objectives, and metrics ensuring that they are clear and concise, and have been agreed upon by all appropriate parties.
Determine which team members will be involved in recruitment, and designate one that will lead the process, including the final selection of a candidate and subsequent onboarding. Make sure that all parties understand how to foster a positive recruitment experience.
If there are multiple interviewers, develop a basic interview structure so that all meetings are conducted in a similar manner. Executives are keen to notice if multiple interviewers describe the role and portray the organization, its culture, and goals consistently. Providing similar information demonstrates that there is clear internal communication and a true teamwork environment.
Conduct online research about the executive prior to an interview, as it is likely there is additional information accessible on his/her background.
Distribute the candidate’s resume to all participating parties, as well as links to online information gathered.
Prepare questions about the executive that go beyond what is on his/her resume. Questions can cover specific accomplishments, leadership style, innovation, and challenging initiatives or situations encountered.
Plan to discuss the objectives of the role in detail, metrics that will be analyzed, expectations beyond the position description, and how the role impacts the organization as a whole.
Have a plan for how the executive will be onboarded to the organization, his/her department, and team.
Upon scheduling an interview, inform the executive about who they will be meeting with, initial discussion points, and what to expect during the interview.
A critical aspect for an executive is confidentiality, particularly if he/she is currently employed, and even more so, if he/she is passively considering an opportunity. Assure that discussions are kept strictly confidential.
The career section of your website isn’t the most important page for executive-level candidates. They will be looking for news releases, industry data, and information about key team members. If there are certain pages of your organization’s site that would be especially interesting to them, share those URLs prior to the interview.
Ask relevant, in-depth questions. An executive will expect that you did your research and, therefore, anticipate questions that will provide opportunities to elaborate on their experiences, expertise, and how their skills can be of value to the prospective role and your organization.
Provide clarity and transparency about your organization, its team, its objectives for the role, and any challenges that may be encountered. Being honest will mitigate any issues that could occur after the executive is hired.
Openly discuss your organization’s brand and culture. Executive candidates look for a sense of connection with a brand, and cultural fit is the most important attribute to assess.
Outline the hiring process and let the executive know timeframes. Keep him/her informed of their status and next steps. Make final decisions within a reasonable time period, as upper-tier professionals may be entertaining multiple offers.
It’s critical to add the human touch. Talk to him/ her as a person and not just a candidate.
Senior Managing Consultant Rick Nawoczynski says, “Adding the personal touch is beneficial, especially with an executive-level candidate. After all, he/she is making a career change that can have a lasting impact on their future. Clients are frequently taking prospective candidates and their spouses out to dinner, and getting to know them on a personal basis. If there is a relocation involved, it is a good idea to create a packet of information about the area, real estate, school system, and local attractions. In providing this information, the candidate feels supported, respected, and already valued.”
“When conducting searches, we ensure from the onset that our clients understand the instrumental role they will need to assume in assimilating a new executive,” Nawoczynski explains. “We encourage them to establish an onboarding plan prior to the executive beginning his/ her employment. Openly communicating that the executive has been hired with appropriate team members and even the reasons why he/she was selected is a great first step, and can make everyone feel respected and appreciated. Having an onboarding plan makes the executive feel like they are already a valued member of your team.”
While there are many ways to successfully onboard a new executive, there are fundamental considerations that are essential:
Avoid the expectation that the new executive will be the overriding answer to issues and challenges.
Explain to appropriate team members why the executive was chosen for the role, his/her background, skill sets, and experiences.
Address any negative feelings among colleagues who may have assumed they would get the role themselves, or who believed an internal candidate should have been selected.
Consider how each member of the executive team can play an active role in the onboarding process, and outline their responsibilities in helping to facilitate a successful integration.
Establish realistic time frames for the executive to achieve certain objectives.
Provide the necessary level of authority to the new executive to successfully fulfill his/her responsibilities.
Tom Helbling notes, “Sometimes, there are misconceptions about a newly hired executive. The most common is that he/she will be able to make an immediate impact upon coming on board simply due to the level of the executive’s experience and achievements. While this can be accurate, an organization’s leadership also has responsibility in the executive’s transition process, and typically, they underestimate the amount of assistance, guidance, and support needed early on to ensure the new executive's short- and long-term success.”
He goes on to say, “I've placed hundreds of executives, and those who are onboarded well, in general, outperform those who are not. When a game plan is established that involves other team members, it creates efficiency, communication, and excitement, and it mitigates potential complications. The new executive is able to make a positive impact early on, and the resulting optimism spreads quickly through the leadership team and throughout the organization.”
Just when you think you are done with a new executive’s recruitment experience, it is highly beneficial to gather their feedback on how well you did as an organization. “This is vital, competitive insight that most organizations miss out on obtaining and can impact future hiring initiatives,” Nawoczynski says. “If you’re going to go through all of the stages of implementing what is hopefully a positive candidate experience, obtaining continual feedback is essential."
“As part of the continuation of our services, we contact candidates regularly to see how their transitions are progressing,” he says. “I ask questions about the onboarding process to make sure it’s going smoothly. In
turn, I provide the client with that feedback. Showing respect for a candidate’s experience throughout the entire recruitment process through onboarding goes a long way and helps them feel truly supported in their new career endeavor.”