Hiring the right candidate for an executive-level position is as challenging as it is crucial for your business's growth and success. Executive roles often require a lengthy recruitment process that includes a rigorous selection of applicants based on their past experience and traits, careful vetting of selected candidates and several interviews to determine the best fit.
These seven entrepreneurs discuss some of the best vetting and hiring practices they use when looking to fill an executive-level role.
Give them a real-world problem.
Instead of focusing only on a candidate's background and past experience, try giving them a real problem to solve. Shawn Porat, co-founder of Scorely, recommends this vetting practice to better assess the way they think.
"In interviews, you might ask hypothetical questions or examples about how they handled something in the past. What I like to do is give them a real problem or scenario that I'm dealing with," he says. "Their answer gives me keen insight into how they think and how they could contribute to my team."
Put them to work on a trial basis.
Another way of determining best fit is hiring candidates for a trial period first to see how they mesh with the team. "We ask prospects that have moved along in the process to come in and work with everyone for a limited basis. It's a try-me, buy-me experience for them and us," says Serenity Gibbons, local unit lead for NAACP in Northern California.
"They get a better understanding of what it feels like to work there and we see their perspective and leadership style in practice," she adds.
Promote from within.
"I'll be the contrarian on this one," says SELECT Founder and CEO Carlo Cisco, who believes companies should focus on promoting high-performing employees to executive positions instead of hiring from the outside.
"When someone is potentially qualified for an exec role, bring them in mid-tier first. If they're passionate about the company, they'll be on board," he says. "Once you better understand their fit with the team, their capabilities and their capacity for success within your business, you can promote."
Ask about their values.
Given that executives set the tone of an organization, it is critical for founders to ensure their management team "upholds the leadership values of transparency, trust, humility and value of people," says Beck Bamberger, founder and CEO of BAM Communications.
"Without stating these values first, I directly ask what the executive believes in, value-wise. Then, to validate the answers, I ask all references what they think the candidate believes in to determine consistency."
Speak to references not provided.
A critical vetting process is talking to people who know the person you're about to hire, thinks leadership speaker Antonio Neves.
"Most times, leaders only talk to the references provided, which is a mistake. A high level of due diligence is key. You can simply use LinkedIn to find connections that you have in common. From there, reach out to these connections to learn more about your candidate," Neves explains.
Get to know them outside of work.
"Seeing how someone reacts to a horrible waiter or a flight cancelation can tell you a lot about the person," says Nomo FOMO Founder Adelaida Sofia Diaz-Roa, emphasizing the importance of assessing applicants outside of the work environment.
"Assessing how they behave in relationships that are non-work related or how they talk about others can reveal a lot about their values and how they'll be when difficult times come around," Diaz-Roa believes. "You can also tell a lot about their management style by how many times they use 'we' versus 'I.'"
Ask what they would do differently.
In the end, hiring for an executive position boils down to determining how that person can help your organization grow, according to Future Hosting CEO Vik Patel. "When I'm hiring for an executive role, I want to know that the prospective hire is capable of creating and implementing policies that take the business forward."
To achieve that, Patel asks candidates to analyze and critique his company's current strategies. "What would they do differently? Can they see the limitations of our approach? Can they thoughtfully articulate arguments for and against a policy?"