Executive hiring: How to know if they’re good

I took an outdoor walk with a friend recently. Masked, of course. Physically distanced, naturally. But within conversational range. My friend knows that I’m ‘in recruitment’, but she’s unfamiliar with the specifics of executive search, and how this field is distinct from general recruitment.

She wanted to know whether we use online tools to source people. Indeed, yes, platforms like LinkedIn are part of our arsenal of sources, but they are by no means our primary or exclusive route to top people. She then questioned how we determined whether an identified candidate was a good one.

And with that perfect question, I took a deep breath and went in…

Knowing whether people are ‘good’, or suitably qualified for a role is at the heart of what we do. In fact, being able to assess ‘good’ (or preferably ‘great’) is one of the core and key value-adds that executive search experts offer companies that choose to outsource their executive hiring to professionals.

And one thing that any self-respecting executive recruiter knows, is that what you see online is frequently VERY different from what you get in an interview.

Regardless of how fabulous an online resume reads, it must be remembered that anything that anyone posts on their online profile is by its nature intended to show the person in the best possible light. Achievements everywhere, negatives nowhere to be seen.

As a result, evaluating or screening candidates based on the quality of their online profiles is utterly misguided. What you see on the screen is most definitely not an accurate representation of what you’ll get in real life; and discerning candidate quality from an unverified autobiographical narrative is almost impossible.

An online profile at best will offer accuracy regarding employment record and tenure (and don’t for a moment think you can take this at face value without doing your own checks). Additionally, job titles and role descriptions (even if accurate) can be misleading, and one is then reliant on how self-aware and honest the prospect is, or how much time and effort they decided to put into their online resume. Notably, the online bios of professionals who are not actively looking for a job are likely to be far less comprehensive or well-worded than those who are ‘on the market’ (if you are not looking to move, why spend precious time and energy putting the shine on your CV or even putting your profile out there in the first place?)

So, ‘how you tell if they’re good’, is not something that’s going to happen by doing online screening. Of course, one might assess if someone has the right level of exposure by virtue of their employment history – the industry sectors they worked in, the companies they have worked for, and the job level and function they occupied.

But even these can be red herrings, and not at all indicative of quality.

Assessing if someone is ‘good’ is done primarily through the engagement process, which includes actual conversations where you know what questions to ask and what extra-verbal cues to look for, and in-person (these days via video) interviews. Followed by references from relevant referees, and additional psychometric tools where appropriate.

This process should be conducted by executive recruiters who know the industry sectors or job functions well, and who have interviewed a sufficient number of candidates to be able to offer a comparison from within the talent pool.

The benefits of getting the professionals to do the brainwork on candidate screening continue, but with the walk turning increasingly brisk, and being out of breath at this stage, I opted to leave the rest of my explanation for a future instalment.

Stay tuned.