By Steve Touhill, Partner.

Regardless of the macroeconomic climate, it’s always a candidate-driven market for top executive talent. It takes acumen, persuasion, and sensitivity to penetrate this sterling group, who are difficult to extract and invisible to job postings. But getting the executive candidate to the table is only the beginning. You must remember three key points to maximize your ability to make the best possible hire:

  • They’re Candidates, Not Applicants: Because elite executives aren’t active in the job market, the interview process must be more courtship than cross- examination. While it’s obviously important to discern whether the candidate is an objective and cultural fit, putting the candidate under the microscope in early stages, before he’s even concluded how seriously he want to pursue the position, is guaranteed to drive him out of the process. The foremost burden is upon you to explain why the candidate should leave his perfectly good job to join you. Once that foundation is established, it is critical to maintain the dialogue with the candidate as an equal, not a subordinate.
  • Top Talent Doesn’t Always Interview Well: It’s a simple fact that active candidates interview better early in the process. It makes sense: they have more practice, and have often been “coached” by transactional recruiters to concentrate on key points to increase the likelihood of being placed. On the other hand, amazing candidates have been prematurely ruled out because they “didn’t demonstrate a genuine interest” or “lacked interview polish”. Don’t be fooled. The best candidates get better in subsequent interview rounds, while weaker ones expose their true nature. You owe it to yourself to give them a chance. The next bullet explains why.
  •  Short-Term vs. Long-Term Motivations: Active candidates are often motivated by the need to replace lost income, period. This short-term view increases the risk of misrepresentation of ability and/or interest and if hired, often ends in disappointment. Truly exceptional candidates are focused on the long term. They are approaching your opportunity in a strategic, logical way, and by the time an offer is extended and accepted they will have completely thought through the value of the position to their career trajectory and are willing to make a long term commitment. As a result, they are more likely to succeed and contribute for a long time. Listen to the nature of your candidates’ questions and they will reveal which motivational category they belong to. Much better to have an executive run to your opportunity than just land there running from the last one.

There are countless variables that can influence the outcome, but the basic methodology you choose will have a dramatic impact on the quality of the search. Remembering the above keys, combined with an exhaustive effort to identify the best possible candidates from a well-defined and thoroughly researched universe, will mitigate your risk of making anything less than a stellar hire. If you don’t have confidence in your approach, seek out the counsel of an exceptional executive recruiter who will provide perspective on methodologies that stick.