Anytime you're looking to fill a position inside your business, especially when it comes to finding someone for your senior level C Suite, is a critical moment. The cost of missing on a hire can be enormous. That's why it can be helpful to do as much prep work as you can in terms of nailing down the kind of person you're looking for--including their education level and experience--as well as a detailed description of what you want the person to do once they come aboard. These are important steps to take even if you work with a recruiter to help you identify good candidates for your open position.

Once you reach the point where you're ready to interview candidates, you're going to find that all of them fit into one of three basic categories. It's then up to you to decide which candidate delivers the best risk-return value to your business

Candidate No. 1: The Seasoned Hand

This is the candidate who has all the experience you'd ever need. They've been there and done that and come back with a T-shirt. They might even have some gray hair. They are clearly qualified for the job, and you know that by bringing them on, they'd immediately hit the ground running. In fact, you recognize that maybe even day one, they will upgrade the potential of your entire team. The catch is that people like this are expensive--potentially very expensive. But if you're in the early stages of your company, making an investment in a person like this can be critical to growing the business, because you know the job will never be bigger than them. Still, you need to balance the tradeoff between the cost of the person and the value they can deliver.

Candidate No. 2: The High Potential

This is a person who might have the right level of education and basic background you're looking for, but with far less experience that you'd prefer. They've never done the job you'd be asking them to do. In fact, they may have been doing a similar job a level or two lower inside their prior organization. For example, you might be looking at a plant manager for your COO position or a director of accounting for your CFO position. But this person has loads of potential. They are exciting, super smart, and have tons of energy. They would bring something special to the team. The catch is that you need to allow them to make mistakes as they build up the necessary experience on the job. It also means you need to believe this person can continue to develop their skills at the same pace or faster than the company's growth requires. While they often can become stars in their own right, there is also substantial risk involved in hiring someone like this.

Candidate No. 3: The Wild Card

This is someone who normally wouldn't be considered for your open position. It might be because they're from outside the industry. Or maybe it's someone with strong operational experience that you're interviewing for a sales role. You're betting the person will bring a different skill set to the job in a way that allows them to accomplish things someone with more traditional experience can't. An example might be deciding to hire an engineer into a marketing position, because engineers tend to be disciplined, good at problem solving, and they understand products and design. The catch is they need to learn how to become a good marketer. But you might argue that it's far easier to teach an engineer how to market than it would be to teach a marketer about engineering. Obviously, there can be substantial risk in considering this kind of candidate for the position, especially if they aren't able to adjust and grow into it. But if they can, you might have found an incredibly strong A player who brings something unique to the organization. 

One of the secrets of the high-end recruiting industry is that they will send you at least one of each of these kinds of candidates to see which way you are leaning for the hire.  Once you indicate a direction, the rest of the candidates you see will look similar.

The next time you go out to fill an open position, consider putting the candidates into these three categories as a way to best assess their potential, as well as the benefits they can bring to the organization, balanced against the investment and the risk that they are the kind of person who can keep pace with the needs of your business.

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Published on: Apr 23, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.