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Hiring a C-Suite Executive: Dos and Don’ts

June 08, 2017

Hiring a C-level executive is a huge investment for any business, don’t be afraid to take time to conduct multiple tests and assessments on potential hires.

“C-Suite” Executives, in other words an organization’s most important senior leadership (CFO, CEO, etc.) serve as cornerstones of an organization. Hiring at the C- suite level, therefore, must be done with extreme care and deliberation—hastily filling in a C-suite spot could come with damaging consequences!

A couple Dos and Don’ts

DON’T dwell too much on performance histories. This is a common mistake when hiring c-level executives. Although an individual’s level of success in past roles is a good indicator of future performance, it fails to showcase how they got there or what their attitude was like along the way.
For instance, one individual you’re thinking of hiring might be someone who has a history of business leadership positions. Another might be a person who came up through the finance function. You don’t know right off the bat who will fit the position solely based on their past performance.

DO test candidates using the following valid measures of candidate characteristics...

  • Personality Testing- These are typically online assessments and measure personality traits, specifically those related to safety consciousness, customer awareness, integrity and ability to collaborate.
  • Structured Behavioral Interviewing- This is an assessment of your past ‘behaviors’ in specific work situations
  • Cognitive ability testing- This is a form of psychometric assessment designed to measure general intelligence.
  • Assessment centers- An assessment center puts candidates through a series of group and individual exercises designed to simulate the conditions of a given job and thus determines if they have the skills and abilities necessary to perform that job

DON’T automatically assume an internally promoted candidate is better suited for the position.
Internally promoted candidates sometimes fail because in general the skills that enabled their success in previous jobs are not sufficient for dealing with the increased scale, complexity, and responsibility inherent in their C-suite role. This can be prevented by conducting more thorough assessments in the hiring process (hint...use the tests listed above).
External hires can have a difficult time developing relationships with the executive leadership team. Try putting greater emphasis on getting to know the candidate instead of solely examining their experience. A lot of places implement transition phases for the executive to move into the role at a pace comfortable to him/her and get to know the current key players at the organization.

DO look for a C-suite executive that is exceptional in the areas of strategic thinking and foresight. Strategic thinking depends on understanding upcoming external changes in relation to internal capabilities. Ask candidates to solve a real problem—have them walk you through investigating and resolving it. Ask candidates to review a flawed strategic plan—can they identify the problems? Also, individuals that quantify results in dollars or revenue impacts are likely to be strategic thinkers.

Listen to how candidates speak about their skillset, terms like- “multiyear,” “data driven decisions”, “connecting the dots,” “increasing profitability and margins” etc., etc. Ask him/her to define what that specific phrases or words mean—which will help weed out those who are only using jargon to impress you.

DO take it slow.

Long story short, the more research you conduct on a potential hire, the better. It’s a huge decision to hire someone new so don’t feel rushed to make a decision. No matter how experienced a person may be, he/she might not be right for your organization. Take your time to get to know a potential hire and don’t be afraid to check each of his/her references. Try not to be lured to a candidate solely because they held a high level position at another company. His/her past company could be very different from yours (esp. if you’re a startup).

Please contact us for further guidance.

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