Hiring a senior leader for your company is a huge investment that will hopefully pay off in both the short and longer term.

Over the years, I've come to realize that you're never just hiring for tactical skills. Cultural fit and personality are inescapably intertwined in figuring out whether or not a senior candidate will be successful.

That's why my co-founder, David Spector, and I came up with a new way to vet senior leadership candidates. It's essentially a Venn diagram made up of three concentric circles, with each circle detailing a specific need for the role.

  1. Cultural fit and alignment with company values.

  2. The bullet points of the job; the necessary tactical skills.

  3. Leadership, vision-setting, and recruiting abilities.

The three circles are uniquely important, and no one circle is given precedence over the other two. Here's how to evaluate whether your candidate fits perfectly into the middle of that Venn diagram:

Circle One: Cultural Fit And Alignment

When you're interviewing candidates, it's easy to make excuses if the cultural fit doesn't seem right. You wind up thinking, "It's hard to know that for certain," or, "Maybe it's not that important as long as they can handle the technical aspects of the job."

But hiring someone who doesn't fit in with your company values will always come back to haunt you.

Truthfully, it can be difficult to tell whether or not someone will be a good cultural fit during an interview. So, you have to be very careful not to lead them with your questions. Smart people (the type you're interviewing, hopefully) will read into your questions and alter their answers to fit what you want to hear.

Instead, ask broad, open-ended questions like, "How do you go about communicating with your team?" or "Tell me about how you work cross-functionally at your current company."

That type of question doesn't give them an opportunity to mirror something you've already told them, and the answers you get will be much more revealing when it comes to deciding if this person is the right cultural fit.

Circle Two: Tactical Duties of the Role

A candidate has to be a functional expert in order to be a great senior leader.

For example, we're hiring a VP of supply chain and production right now. Obviously, we're looking for someone who has managed multiple complex supply chains with manufacturing across different countries. We can't really get around the technical aspects of the job, even if the candidate might be a great cultural fit.

That said, a bullet on a resume is just that--an accomplishment on paper. The resume is what gets someone an interview, nothing more. So, it's important you spend time asking them about how they achieved the goals they have listed.

What was the size of their team? How did they work cross-functionally? What projects did they actually own?

That will give you a better idea of which boxes they check off for you, and what they might need to grow into. Because you're almost never going to find someone who checks every box. Everyone has growth opportunities, and you're essentially trying to figure out if this person will be able to handle those opportunities. Are they curious? How do they deal with uncertainty?

When you check with references, they might tell you that this person doesn't have experience doing something you'd like them to. That's fine, but your next question should be, "Okay, I understand, but do you think they're smart enough, and will work hard enough, to figure it out?"

Circle Three: Responsibilities of a Mini-CEO

I tell all our senior leaders at ThirdLove, "You're a mini CEO. You're the CEO of your team."

That's because we expect them to set the strategy for their team, make the right kind of hires, choose the right KPIs, and understand who is and isn't performing well on the team. They're in charge of holding people accountable and identifying candidates for internal promotion.

All of that requires the ability to set a vision and inspire people to achieve it.

For this, one trait I really look for in an interview is clarity. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask a question and the person doesn't answer it, or spends five minutes talking about peripheral ideas and never gets to the bottom of it. If you can't give me a clear answer now, how are you going to provide the clarity your team needs around a host of issues?

Our senior leaders don't have to be peppy or exhibit a certain personality type, but they need that "it" factor. They have to be able to get people to buy in and follow them, but also respect them and feel like they can learn a lot working under this leader.

Published on: Feb 20, 2019
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