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How to Recruit to Executive Level Posts

Executive level posts are often challenging to recruit to.  They don’t have to be; proper preparation and a well planned, thought-through recruitment process will help increase your odds of a successful appointment.  We hope these steps will give you clarity and confidence around best practice for recruiting those at the helm of your organisation.

Things you'll need

  • Approval to appoint
  • Job Description
  • Person Specification

Define recruitment parameters & market strategy

You have an executive level vacancy and approval to take it to market.  Before you advertise, you have a number of things to consider.  Have you defined a timeline, including closing date, interview date and final panel dates for the role?  Will you be using a combination of print and/or online advertising alongside executive search?  Have you considered psychometric assessments?  What is your budget?


You may have in-house recruitment or HR support to manage the recruitment process and make these decisions, but at this level, external recruitment consultants can provide professional advice in all of these areas and save you precious time.  If you go down this route ensure you source a recruiter who fits your budget, takes time to understand your organisation and its values and who clearly articulates to you how they will support you across the steps outlined in this article.


Create the Candidate Pack

Once your market strategy is in place, you must put together a Candidate Pack that will be shared with all interested candidates.  This pack must clearly explain what you are looking for, and should contain a job description and person specification for the role.  You may also want to include additional information about your organisation, the department and the remuneration package. 


Tips here include breaking the job description down into specific areas of accountability such as ‘leadership,’ or ‘strategic and operational management’ and highlighting the specific role elements that relate to each in subsequent bullet points.  It’s also useful to present the person specification as a numbered matrix of essential and desirable criteria so candidates can clearly discuss their experience in relation to the technical attributes and competencies you have laid out for the role.  This will also make it much easier to assess candidate fit when sifting paper applications.


You might also consider directing candidates to a bespoke recruitment website for the role, which can include the Candidate Pack and additional details such as a Welcome Letter, detail about your organisation, recruitment timetable and application instructions.  Such sites can be built at low cost and have many benefits: information is immediately available to candidates at their convenience, your brand is promoted and you are able to capture details from all candidates that download the Candidate Pack from the site, reducing your administrative burden.


Take briefings

Before taking the opportunity to market, ensure that you hold briefing discussions with the line manager and other relevant stakeholders who have a clear understanding of the role and its objectives.  By engaging key stakeholders early in the process you will understand their views about the role and begin to identify a consensus of opinion about what type of candidate attributes you should look out for.


Candidate attraction commences

In step one you defined your candidate attraction strategy; now it is time to put it into motion.  Candidate attraction for executive level posts usually involves a mix executive search alongside of print / online advertising. 


Executive search by a recruitment consultant, when done thoroughly and not solely by sourcing a database, will highlight the role to relevant, high performing candidates who are not actively looking for a new role.  These conversations will both generate interest from candidates who would not have been reached by advertising and lead to additional steers and broadened networks from which candidates may be sourced.


Media strategy forms the other half of your candidate attraction approach.  If on a limited budget, consider online advertising options, now widely used.  If you do want print exposure, source a few media options through a media specialist who will have better buying power with national and trade publications.  You may also want to consider minimising your media costs by using advertising as a sign-post to a bespoke recruitment website.  Such sites can be built at low cost and have the added benefit of allowing prospective candidates to access information about the role immediately and at their convenience, while also showcasing your professional image and employer brand.


Timely response management

Ensure that you have a firm system in place to respond to queries about the role from prospective candidates.  Time is of the essence for candidates, who may only be partially engaged or considering other opportunities.  Make your organisation stand out by providing timely, informed responses to those with questions who are considering the roles.  If you appear inaccessible to candidates they might be discouraged to pursue the opportunity.


Sift paper applications

It’s important to have clear assessment criteria in place in order to effectively “sift” the paper applications that arrive by closing date.  With many applications to consider and limited time, you must work consistently, quickly and thoroughly.  This is where a well laid out person specification really comes into its fore; measure candidates against the necessary criteria you have laid out for the role and a clear, defendable picture of who to progress to long-list interview stage will emerge.


Long-list interviews & psychometric testing

This is an important session for you or your recruiter to dig deeper into candidate’s backgrounds via a face to face, structured meeting.  Prepare an interview script, again related to the person specification and key areas/competencies needed for the role as well as specific prompts for each candidate where needed.  This interview will allow you to better understand each candidate’s career path, skills and experience, achievements, working style and motivation for the role, and subsequently short-list those who come across best fit.


At this stage you may also have planned to conduct psychometric assessments, which are proven to give better prediction of performance than interviews alone.  Psychometric assessment also introduces more rigour and objectivity into the recruitment process and will support more accurate identification of the personal and occupational characteristics you require.  The findings will provide useful probes for short-listed candidates progressed to the final panel.


Final Panel & Selection

Short-listed candidates should be informed that they are through to the final panel and invited to prepare a specific presentation prior to the interview.  Choose a topic that will give you insight into how they will handle an upcoming project or challenge they will face in the role, which will provide insight into the understanding, technical abilities and skills they will bring to the job.  Prepare interview questions that probe candidate experience within all the key areas of the role, as well as any findings from the candidate’s psychometric test if applicable.


Ensure all final panel members are thoroughly briefed prior to the day regarding the interview structure and your assessment criteria.  This will set the scene for measured, structured and healthy debate over which candidate is best -placed to take up the role.  Once a lead candidate emerges you are happy to make an offer to, you are nearly on your way to a successful appointment.


Extending your offer & providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates

Extended offers at this stage should be subject to you completing, on average, two references on your successful candidate.  Be prepared to discuss the entire remuneration package with your chosen candidates and be ready to negotiate on salary and remuneration details.  Importantly, know where you are flexible and where you are not, and bring this understanding to the table in your negotiations with the successful candidate.   Once a package is agreed and successful references are taken, you are ready to make a formal, written offer.  Congratulations!


It’s also very important to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates, both for their personal development and to strengthen your professional image and employer brand. 


Recruitment support

If you choose to engage an experienced recruiter to run this executive level recruitment process, ensure that they adhere to these best practice guidelines, detail a bespoke search strategy, provide you with regular search / response management updates and meet with you to thoroughly discuss the candidates that they recommend for long-list and short-list.  They should also be available to support you at the final panel, to negotiate the offer made to your chosen candidate and to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates.  Your recruiter provides your public face and must present your organisation in a positive, professional light to all that come in contact with the recruitment process.

Further information



Page last edited Jan 25, 2018 History

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