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By: Debra Kabalkin on July 20th, 2021

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Executive Recruitment: What to Do When You Can't Fill a Senior Vacancy

Talent Acquisition

Executive recruitment can be a monumental responsibility. If you’re involved in the selection process, you know that you’re not just hiring an employee. You’re bringing in a fresh face who will immediately influence your company’s strategy, goals, and culture. It’s not something you can rush. That said, you might run into problems if you’re not quick enough to fill a vacant position in the C-suite. 

What happens when the executive hiring process takes too long? 

In an ideal world, you would never have a vacant C-suite position. Your succession planning would ensure a steadily flowing pipeline of fresh leadership talent, and your outgoing executives would stick around long enough to mentor their successors. 

Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. Executives can depart unexpectedly, leaving your company with a big hole in the leadership team. And, in today’s candidate-led market, finding a suitable executive hire could take months of intense searching. 

If the process starts to take too long, you will notice an impact on the organization’s normal functions. Signs that you have a problem include:  

  • Strategy: An executive vacancy means that there is one voice missing at leadership meetings. This weakens your approach to strategy and could lead to missed opportunities. 
  • Stress: A vacant position always means an increased workload for the rest of the team, leading to more stress. When the vacant position is at an executive level, that extra stress tends to fall on senior-level managers and leaders. 
  • Loss of confidence: Executive recruitment woes can look bad to both employees and clients. 

So, what should you do if the search process takes longer than expected? 

What to do when executive recruitment takes a long time

While you wait to secure the ideal candidate, you have two main priorities. First, you have to ensure that the situation isn’t impacting the organization. Next, you need to look at your search process and identify ways to improve it. Here’s how to manage both of these priorities at the same time. 

1. Review the current state of the organization

First, take some time to establish whether this vacant position is becoming a threat to your resilience. Talk to everyone impacted, such as: 

  • Other members of the C-Suite
  • Leaders within the function related to the vacant position
  • Any third parties that generally interact directly with that executive

If issues are emerging, you may need to look at contingency plans, such as hiring a consultant on an interim basis. Communicate often with the people dealing with workloads associated with the missing executive. Let them know that you’re doing everything you can to make a long-term appointment for the vacant position. 

2. Review the job description and candidate profile

Hiring problems often go right back to the beginning. Your company may have failed to create a realistic job description that attracts the kind of candidate you need. The result is that you get lots of applications from people who are not what you’re looking for – if you get any applications at all. 

Look at the job description and the candidate profile and ask:

  • Do all stakeholders agree on the requirements for the position? 
  • Do we have reasonable expectations around skills and experience, or are we seeking a unicorn candidate? 
  • Have we got clarity on the “must-have” and “nice-to-have” elements of the candidate profile?

When there’s a problem with the candidate profile, it’s often because of a miscommunication between stakeholders. That’s why it’s so important to make sure everyone is in full agreement before you begin your executive search. 

3. Cast a broader net

In today’s competitive market, you have to explore every possible option for connecting with candidates. This can include things like: 

  • Referrals: Your current team are the best recruitment assistants. Ask them to explore their personal network and recommend people who might be a good fit. Even non-management staff may have connections with the right candidate profile.
  • Remote hires: Remote work is a normal part of life these days, even at the top of the org chart. If you’re willing to look at remote hires, you can look for candidates from outside of your locale, including people from other states. 
  • Social media: Networks like LinkedIn and Twitter are a great way to connect with senior professionals who are not actively seeking employment. However, bear in mind that executive-level people tend to get a lot of recruiter spam on social media. You’ll have better results if you identify suitable candidates and try to engage them in conversation before you invite them to apply. 

Related reading: Do Panel Interviews Help or Hurt Your Executive Search? 

4. Review your offer

Top candidates are likely to have more than one offer on the table. It’s not always possible to beat the competition on salary alone, but there are other elements of your offer that could tip the balance in your favor. 

  • Job scope and mission: Most senior-level candidates are looking for an opportunity to stamp their identity on the company. Talk to them about your mission and your vision, and show how this job represents a unique opportunity for them. 
  • Benefits and perks: Add-ons can make a big difference, but only if you offer a package that’s relevant to the candidate. In the wake of the pandemic, many people – including executives – are rethinking their relationship with work. Benefits that show commitment to a healthy work-life balance can be very enticing. 
  • Culture: Your culture could be a significant influencing factor in the final decision, so make sure you highlight the best aspects. What makes your office such a great place to work? What makes your team unique?  

5. Look at a retained search option

Executive recruitment is an arduous process. Even a recruiting service that specializes in senior-level recruitment might not be able to help secure the talent you need. 

Retained search is a different approach to senior-level hiring. In retained search, a skilled HR consultant works with your local team from the moment you identify your need to fill a vacant position. They’ll help you with tasks like: 

  • Defining the job description
  • Refining the candidate profile
  • Finding high-quality applicants
  • Organizing a fast, quality candidate screening process
  • Building a total rewards offer that attracts talent, even if you can’t compete on salary
  • Onboarding your new executive

Retained search gives your executive recruitment committee access to elite HR skills. Your retained search consultant will keep working with you until the vacant position is filled. 

Want to learn more about Retained Search and executive recruitment? Download the free ebook, Recruiting The Best. 

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