Executive Recruiting Strategy: 9 Steps for Success

Hiring people for senior management positions is one of the toughest tasks for a recruiter. 

Sourcing the right executive candidates and filling key managerial roles in an organization can be difficult even in the best of times. Add to that the changing work culture in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and finding the right execs becomes an even harder task. 

Let’s take a closer look at ways to improve the search for executives. 

1. The executive search intake call

The first and arguably most important step in starting your search for the perfect executive is the intake call. Often, when it comes to hiring executives, the role of “hiring manager” is played by other senior executives or members of the company’s board. 

“While having a conversation with the person in charge of making the decision to hire, I ask them a whole list of questions that help me determine the ideal candidate profile,” says Jodi Marchewitz, an executive recruiter at ZoomInfo. 

Some examples of the questions Marchewitz asks:

  • Where will the role be located? 
  • Who does the role report to?
  • Which departments report to the role?
  • What kind of team does the role work with?
  • Do they work cross-functionally or within a specific function?

“I don’t just ask what the hiring manager is looking for, I really try to dig into the problems this new person is expected to solve in the next three to six months, or even longer,” she says. “This is the information that really resonates with candidates and attracts them.” 

2. Tasks, required skills, and characteristics

After discovering the expectations for this C-level executive or VP level role, you can start to build a list of the skills needed to execute the role. Pay special attention to the skills mentioned by the people who will work closely with this position. And don’t forget that successful executives often have characteristics that align with a company’s ethos. 

“At ZoomInfo, I know we’re always looking for passionate people who want to blaze new paths. So that’s what I look for. If I were recruiting for another company, I’d look for things that resonate with them. I try and match the characteristics needed for the role with the kind of person the hiring manager wants to work with,” Marchewitz says

It’s important to remember that every company is looking for something unique and every hiring manager has their own preferences. Smaller companies like startups have vastly different criteria for hiring executives compared to large companies. 

“Say, for example, that I’m working with a series B startup, making their first big VP of marketing hire with just a couple other people on the team. It’s important to investigate what the team does and how the new hire fits in their vision,” says Michael King, executive recruiter, and proprietor of King Recruiting Inc. “Do they want someone with a strong product marketing background? Or is demand generation a bigger priority? The candidate has to have played in the sandbox before.”

This process of discovery helps you figure out which tasks the executive has to fulfill, which skills they need to be successful, and which characteristics the team would appreciate. 

3. Start the executive search process with research 

After the intake call, the hunt for the right person begins in earnest. Doing general research to identify who does this type of work at other companies is a good starting point. 

“I start by looking at the job title and figure out if it’s really the right title for the role. I use a variety of tools to search for jobs and people that are similar,” Marchewitz says. “Using Google and Indeed, I look for similar job titles and see how they match up with the role I’ve been asked to fill. This helps determine whether that really is the right title, or if other keywords should be considered.” 

Research is also key to building a clear picture of the market for a specific role and getting an understanding of the general talent pool.

4. Build a detailed job description based on expectations, profiles, skills, and research 

Once you understand the expectations of the hiring manager, as well as the desired skills and personal characteristics of the executive they’re looking for, it’s time to build a job description that does as much heavy lifting as possible. 

“Titles are titles, but the job description is what people are really looking at to understand the opportunity,” Marchewitz says. 

The job description should clarify the expectations of the role, but also pique the interest of potential executive candidates. Once a good job description has been created, it can then be marketed on relevant platforms and job search sites to capture the attention of those actively seeking a change. 

5. Sourcing executive candidates

According to LinkedIn’s Ultimate List of Hiring Statistics, 70 percent of the global workforce is considered passive talent. That leaves just 30 percent as active job seekers. But regardless of whether they’re actively looking, 87 percent of all candidates are considered open to new jobs. 

This means that the vast majority of candidates are open to hearing from recruiters, even when not actively seeking a new job. Outreach efforts to passive candidates are a critical part of the hiring process. 

“On average, I might look through 700 to 1,000 profiles per search, but I’m very specific. It might take up to 10 boolean searches with different keywords to arrive at someone with the criteria I’m looking for,” Marchewitz says. “By the end, I have about 80 candidates that are potentially a good fit. I then rank them based on how they match to my intake notes and share the top 10 to 15 candidates with the hiring manager.”.

6. Reach out to best-fit candidates with the right tools 

Once the hiring manager gives their blessing, it’s time to reach out to the best candidates with your well-crafted job description. Many modern recruiters use LinkedIn InMail because it’s the right environment in which to make contact with candidates, but there are other options. 

It can be tough to reach candidates about a new job opportunity when only their current work email is publicly available. In such cases, using a B2B contact data provider like ZoomInfo can be helpful in finding an alternate contact. However, if that’s not available, it’s best to be cautious when reaching out to candidates through a work address. 

“The first thing I do is reach out on LinkedIn InMail. But if there are people on my list that I really want to reach and they haven’t responded, I look into ZoomInfo TalentOS to check for their emails. If I get a personal email address I reach out using that,” Marchewitz says “However, if only a work email is available, I actually remove the  words ‘executive recruiter’ from my signature, and reach out with a simple email that tells them to check my LinkedIn message to avoid any issues.”

Outreach is a time-consuming part of the executive hiring process, especially if it’s being done manually. Using automation software, such as ZoomInfo Engage, to build multivariate email and phone call flows can minimize the time and effort recruiters put into this part of the process. 

7. Set executive candidates up for success before the interview process

As you go through the outreach process, you’ll start hearing from interested candidates. Hold a 15-minute pre-screening interview with each one to gauge their fit and prepare them for interviews with the hiring manager and the rest of the team. 

Here’s what you’re trying to accomplish with the 15-minute pre-screening interview:

  • Get the candidate to summarize their experience and explain why they are interested in the position so you can gauge their level of experience and technical skills.  
  • Tell them more about the role, position, company, hiring manager and process so they know what to expect. 
  • Discuss the candidate’s salary expectations and make them aware of the compensation and benefits of the role. 
  • Invite the candidate to ask any questions they may have about the role and provide them with a clear understanding of the next steps in the process. 

This process filters the talent pool for unfit candidates and ensures that those who do make it through are well-prepared for the interview process.

8. Create win-win situations for both executive hires and managers

As the recruiter, it’s your job to make sure that both the hiring manager and executive candidate are on the same page throughout the interview and selection process. This includes adapting to changing work environments and peoples’ needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider going remote-first

Many candidates now want to be remote. PwC surveyed 699 CEOs and found that 78 percent of them agreed that remote collaboration is here to stay. 

“Being able to work remotely does seem like it’s an increasingly important factor for people who are considering changing roles. I’ve definitely come across more people at least looking to work with organizations where it’s not five days a week in the office,” says Val Kirilova, head of people and talent at Rockerbox. “We’re positioning ourselves as a remote-first workplace and I’ve seen it be a significant selling point for us.”

Keep up with changing perks 

Gone are the days when candidates considered office lunches, pantry snacks, and flexibility as special selling points. With more people working from home, the nature of the office perk has evolved to include better employee health and well-being programs, as well as childcare and care for the elderly. 

Compensation is just as important as ever, if not more

Salary structure has always been considered a central factor in changing jobs. However, the pandemic created a situation where other considerations have become just as important. 

“Yes, people want to be paid fairly, but they are also looking at how the company is run during the pandemic,” King says. 

Kirilova agrees: “In my experience, people are adding to the things that were important before. Value alignment is something that people are really leaning into. They want a better understanding of an organization’s foundational tenets.” 

9. Move on executive candidates as fast as possible

The ultimate goal of hiring executives is to make an offer to the best candidate as quickly as possible. According to executive recruiting firm Pixcell, it can take six to eight weeks to build a shortlist of candidates, and final selection can take seven to 14 weeks.

Drive the executive hiring process with as much urgency as possible. The longer you take to make a decision, the greater the chance of missing out on a great candidate. Automation can be a key to reducing your timeline for hiring.

“There are way too many jobs open and everybody’s looking for superstars. As a recruiter, it’s important to be aware that there’s a lot of competition and that when you have a good person that’s ready for a change, they’ll have multiple offers. Guaranteed,” King says. 

Executive hiring is an iterative process

As a recruiter, building a strong framework for executive hiring that maximizes efficiencies while minimizing cost and time to hire is an important aspect of the function. The hiring process can always be improved over time. Remaining open to changes and constantly seeking better ways to source candidates is critical.