By Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Great people are critical to the success of every business. Hiring them, however, is easier said than done. The best are rare, challenging to find, and even harder to attract. Competition for them is intense. Retaining these marketable professionals can also be a challenge. Smart board members and C-level executives embrace this reality and tend to follow 5 key principles in the war for talent.

1. Focus on retention from the first conversation. Yes, you need to scrutinize credentials, measure personality fit, and follow a recruiting methodology. The candidate expects these qualification tactics, however, when a candidate “feels” the recognition of true interest and commitment, a desirable symbiotic outlook is initiated. Even the most serious senior executive has emotions and how they feel about what you express will drive their initial interest. Using inclusive and assumptive language helps to establish an immediate connection which sets the stage for a potential long-term professional marriage. The sooner a candidate feels a symbiosis with you and your company, the sooner you’ll get to know the real candidate before you as well. The intrinsic value of immediate commitment cannot be overstated.

2. Know what you don’t want. It’s reasonable for a board or CEO to wrestle with some ideal candidate criteria and maintain a little bit of ambiguity. A lot of strategic candidates actually prefer some unknown complexity in taking on a new scope of work – after all it’s not uncommon to hire someone to remedy an unresolved challenge or build a solution not yet identified. However, few factors will give a competent executive more pause than inexplicable indecision. Smart hiring executives rule out what they don’t want to see in a candidate and document it. It’s OK to not know exactly which road to travel, but the dead ends must be identified before you pursue the trip.

3. There are no perfect candidates. Identifying the quintessential profile is a starting point, but it should not dictate all decisions. You want an excellent candidate with the intellect, drive and adaptability to perform a desired scope of work. All candidates have strengths and weaknesses so be prepared to make prudent concessions and trade-offs or you may never fill the position.

4. Apply and welcome scrutiny. Checking references is not about validating dates of employment, it is about evaluating the likelihood for success at your company. Softball questions will not help your review so dig in, ask for constructive areas the candidate can improve. Probe. Ask a similar question in a different way. Get details. Qualify and inspect. Pursue informal references as well. In tandem, the best candidates will scrutinize your opportunity and thoroughly vet out if the opportunity, team, product, timing, etc. is right for them. If your senior candidates do not perform mutual due diligence then they are either careless or simply lack intelligence. Punt.

5. Make hiring a priority. If interviews and meetings cannot get scheduled or get postponed more than once, it conveys one single message: not important. A competent executive – hiring manager or candidate – is busy, but both sides need to be committed and make the time to interview. You wouldn’t give a candidate too much additional consideration if they couldn’t create time to meet with you – only the desperate candidates will tolerate a whole lot of that on the other end. Time kills all deals in recruiting.

Follow these simple truths and you will increase your chances for long-term hiring success.