Hiring Executive Talent – the What and Gut Problem

Organizations are often careful when specifying requirements for key executive hires. They contemplate specific responsibilities and the competencies required to execute them. They consider requisite experience, skills and the requisite track record of having delivered on specific objectives. And they may (should) specify experience in working within the specific context in which the firm finds itself. Position profiles are created, behavioral or chronological interviews structured, scorecards crafted and a plan for evaluating candidates along said lines agreed upon.

Despite such noble intentions, candidates are frequently rejected or hired for other criteria. Over the past several months, we have had candidates eliminated by clients not for failing to check off the exhaustive list of requisite experience, skills or competencies but rather…

– Failing to make adequate eye contact in a panel interview

– Acting fidgety

– Wearing a suit to the interview (‘We’re pretty casual here)

– Not speaking enough

– Speaking too much

– Candidate ‘felt’ junior

– Candidate did not ‘seem’ engaged

– Candidate ‘appeared’ to lack passion

– Candidate did not ask many questions

– Candidate asked too many questions

– Client could not ‘see’ themselves discussing strategy with this person

– Client did not ‘connect’ with the candidate

– Candidate did not answer the client’s ‘favorite’ question in an ideal manner

While companies use logic to specify ‘what’ experience, skills and competencies are required for a given role, the ensuing screening process is by necessity time consuming and intellectually demanding. It requires discipline to systematically probe, evaluate and weigh multiple, interacting variables. It is far more expedient and less onerous to hand over such a task to our less rational, intuitive selves. Our guts are comfortable with such an assignment as they gauge situations and judge people in the course of getting through each and every day. To reduce the work load, our guts take shortcuts, use personal biases and approximations to make judgments. Our guts quickly substitute the question at hand (Is the candidate good for the position in question?) with an easier one (Does the candidate look good for the position in question?). Our guts replace how we ‘think’ about a candidate for how we ‘feel’ about that candidate. Our guts replace how well the candidate will likely perform in the job with how they performed in the interview. Our guts decide that what you see is all there is.

Unfortunately, what there isn’t, are good ensuing hiring decisions.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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