Three Keys to Hiring for the C-Suite

 Three Keys to Hiring for the C-Suite


By Holly Priestner

The search is over. The interviews are complete and the references checked. In fact, every box is checked.  After months of searching, the perfect executive has been selected. The board approves, internal stakeholders approve. It seems perfect. And yet, there is still a hint of uncertainty.

Adding a member to the executive team is a scary move — for both the candidate and the company. From the candidate’s perspective, it’s intimidating to leave a secure position in an organization where he or she is valued and successful — regardless of the opportunities on the other side of the offer. Factor in relocating families, selling homes, liquidating stock options, uprooting kids from their friends and schools and asking a spouse to transition his or her career… it’s a laundry list of challenges. From the organization’s perspective, the cost of a bad hire for a non-leadership role is an estimated five times the employee’s salary. This is multiplied at the executive level, where new hires are high-profile, high-impact team members who attract media, industry and stakeholder attention.

The uncertainty is warranted. Someone who looks great on paper, interviews well and appears to be a strong organizational and cultural fit still might not think or work the way the company does. So how can a business be confident they’ve nailed it when hiring for the C-suite?

Pitch a Project

Giving the candidate homework may sound elementary, but it’s a great way to “try before you buy.” Share a relevant business problem with the candidate and request a proposal for how they would solve the problem with a tight deadline. This strategy will weed out candidates who may be taking the company for their own test drive, and provide a concrete example of the candidate’s true level of expertise, style and work product. A good project tests resourcefulness and the candidate’s willingness to do whatever it takes to move a company forward. It also provides evidence that the candidate understands the business and can speak the same language as the company.

Conduct a Behavioral Assessment

Anyone can prep for an interview. There are myriad resources, talent coaches and consultants who train executives to interview at the top. At the C-suite level, answering questions under pressure and connecting with other executives should be a walk in the park. Leverage behavioral assessments for an organic conversation that measures thinking, skills, experience, behavior and culture.

Resist the temptation to simply administer the assessment. Have an in-depth conversation about the results and ask for specific, business-related decisions that affected the outcome. This process reveals depth of experience, how the candidate approaches challenges and, more importantly, how the candidate reacts to victory. Short of working side-by-side for months, there is no better way to test thinking and culture than behavioral assessments.

Request a 90-Day Plan

Action plans are standard for most organizations, but for the C-suite?

Ideally, there’s no lingering uncertainty on either side by the time the candidate accepts. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Did the company present the day-to-day aspects of the job accurately? Is the candidate all talk, no action? Is the candidate truly a leader who can chart and execute executive level leadership?

Test this by asking the candidate to come up with his or her own first-90-day plan. This shows vision, leadership and alignment to the company’s objectives and goals. It also provides an accountability tool for the board of directors and other C-level stakeholders.

Like business, talent acquisition is about both taking and mitigating risks. Mitigating the risk of a C-level hire can save time, money and, most importantly, reputation.

Holly Priestner is the Director of Talent Acquisition for Keller Williams Realty International, the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count. She is responsible for recruiting for the C-suite and for the development of the KWRI talent brand, LifeAtKWRI. She is known for finding and attracting top talent and for going head-to-head with Google, Apple and Amazon for innovators and disruptors.


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