You don’t have to pay recruiters tens of thousands of dollars to find the best business leaders.
Yes, hiring great leaders is difficult. Headhunters vet dozens of potential executives to find the CxOs that will fit their clients’ companies perfectly.
But what if you can’t afford to hire a recruiter? (Or you’d rather take on the job yourself?)
There are many benefits to hiring a recruiter, but with some time and commitment, you can go through the leadership hiring process yourself. You’ll need to learn what it takes to hire a great executive, and then you’ll need to put it into practice.
To help you get started, we’ve put together this list of six tips from professional recruiters. Keep them in mind when you’re going through the leadership hiring process, and you’ll find the perfect candidate to elevate your company to the next level.
1. It’s All About Your Network
The best recruiters don’t just take to LinkedIn and job sites to find leadership candidates. They start with their professional network. Over years of recruiting, headhunters build up a strong network of highly qualified executives—and that’s the first place they go when they’re looking to hire.
This network is one of recruiters’ greatest assets, and the reason why companies keep hiring them to source candidates. Recruiters know a lot of people. And they prune their list of connections to the highest performers.
If you don’t want to hire a recruiter, you need to take advantage of your own network. You probably don’t have the same level of connections as a headhunter. But you definitely know some people in your field. And that’s a great place to start.
Let your acquaintances know that you’re hiring and that you’re interested in hearing their recommendations. Ask them if they know anyone who’s interested in a new leadership role. Tell them about the opportunities at your company (we’ll discuss this in point six below). Ask others to put word out to their own networks that you’re hiring.
When you don’t have the huge network of a recruiter, take advantage of the networks that you’re connected to. This is how leadership positions get filled—while job board postings can be effective, you’ll get better candidates from personal recommendations.
2. Check References Thoroughly
Whether the candidate comes from your own network or not, it pays to check their references. Some recruiters only entertain candidates whose references are also in their network. You may or may not have that luxury.
But you will need to spend time thoroughly checking references. Be prepared to spend up to an hour on reference calls if you want to get the most out of them. Go in with a plan and know what your goals are for each call.
Rebecca Knight’s article “The Right Way to Check Someone’s References” is a thorough guide to the entire process, from soliciting questions to getting information about social-emotional intelligence. Give this article a detailed read when preparing for reference calls.
Remember that a large part of your candidate’s success could be determined by cultural fit (which we’ll talk about next). It’s important to get a feel for how the candidate works, how they solve problems, what drives them, what they believe in—and, of course, how well that matches your company’s culture.
Effectively checking references is tedious. There’s no way around it. But once you’ve narrowed your candidate list a bit, it’s a crucial step that can be the difference between hiring the right candidate and starting the process over in a year.
While references are the best source of information on a candidate’s abilities, you can also seek out information elsewhere. Has your candidate presented at a conference? Been featured on a webinar? Published a paper somewhere? Track down examples of their thought leadership to find out if what they’re saying is a good fit for your company.
3. Emphasize Cultural Fit (or Add)
Recent years have seen an increased emphasis on cultural fit in recruiting. Not just with executives, but with all employees. This is especially true at startups, but the point holds across all companies. And while the inherent problems with the phrase “cultural fit” are now being recognized, the idea—or at least part of it—still holds.
Every company has particular working styles, values, and practices. Hiring for cultural fit doesn’t mean that your candidate has to fit in perfectly with those norms. It means that they should complement them. Sometimes candidates with good cultural fit are already on board with your values. Sometimes it means that they have a different set of values that helps improve your company by adding a new (but compatible or complementary) perspective.
The idea of adding cultural diversity and hiring people with different viewpoints is sometimes referred to as “cultural add.”
Whether these two phrases are contradictory and if cultural fit includes inherent bias is discussed at length elsewhere. What you need to think about is whether a new leadership hire will fit in your company. They don’t need the exact same values and practices. But if their values are antithetical to yours, the relationship might not be a very good one.
Of course, understanding cultural fit or add means you need to understand the culture at your company. If you don’t already know how to describe your company culture, you’ll want to spend some time figuring it out. CultureIQ’s “What Kind of Company Culture Do You Have?” is a great place to start. It details four types of company cultures that you might have in place at your company, as well as advice on how to make a shift to each type.