How To Recruit for Senior-Level Positions

October 23, 2020
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Author: Glenn Hunter

Talent acquisition professionals aiming to persuade a director or an entry-level VP to decamp for a new organization need to be discreet, have a firm grasp on the candidate’s motivations, and keep their promises to their client throughout the process. Those who do will have a leg up on their rivals in this competitive recruiting niche, which typically involves identifying and wooing a relatively small pool of senior-level executives, who are likely to be currently employed and not actively seeking a new job.

Recruiting Senior-Level Employees

“This is an opportunity for you to present that you can find people that others can’t,” Kimberley Suter, a veteran recruiting and HR specialist and executive adviser with New York’s Crenshaw Associates, advises talent acquisition pros. “You need to be able to find great candidates in a timely way.”

Especially important when searching for candidates at this level, Suter says, are the recruiter’s personal expertise and relationship skills, as well as their “ability to do what they say they’re going to do.”

The Importance of Discretion

To begin the search for a senior-level employee, appropriate candidates for the organization’s role often will be identified by the recruiter’s research department, perhaps with the help of proprietary salary and market information from a software platform like LaborIQ® by ThinkWhy. According to an Experteer study, 97% of senior-level professionals prefer to be discovered by recruiters rather than search for their next opportunity themselves.

Talent acquisition pros will then approach the top candidates directly, by phone or through LinkedIn or other social media sites. In doing so, however, confidentiality always needs to be top of mind, Suter cautions. “If the company finds out through a leak that one its employees is on a short list with another firm, it is pretty devastating to everybody,” says Suter, who’s also a member of ThinkWhy’s Executive Advisory Board. A leak “can ruin the employee’s own prospects inside the company if they decide not to leave. In other cases, it ruins any trust the client may have had with the recruiting agency because they couldn’t keep something like this confidential.”

Once contact with the candidate has been established, the recruiter will need to comprehend what Suter calls the “yin and yang” of the budding relationship. Successful senior-level recruiting “is all about understanding the play between a push and a pull factor,” she says. Push factors include “what is not working for the person in their current position? Is it a lack of career growth? Compensation? Morale? Is their industry in decline? Do they hate their manager?”

Pull factors, on the other hand, include the positive things about the client-company that might be attractive to the candidate, such as pay and benefits, short commute times, room for advancement and the opportunity to do challenging work. “If you’ve got a lot of push factors in play, the pull factors don’t have to be as strong,” Suter says. “If you don’t have a lot of push factors in play, the pull factors have to be significantly stronger. … You’re going to have to layer a lot more in.”

And “obviously,” she says, “you need to be matching or bettering the salary.”

Related: Key Factors in Determining the Right Salary Offer

Why Candidates May Be Willing to Jump Ship

Suter cites the hypothetical case of a recruiter trying to lure a top executive away from Google to join a startup firm. The talent acquisition pro needs to consider what perks the candidate from Google is currently enjoying, she says, and then ask: “Is the person bored and really loves doing new work? Google’s business is big now, so the work may not be that exciting, and they may love what they used to have at Google 10 years ago.” In other words, this hypothetical candidate could be persuaded to take a flyer on a startup, given the right inducements.

Senior-level candidates might be open to jumping ship for any number of reasons, Suter says. They include:

  • A better career opportunity. Climbing to the next rung on the ladder might not be possible with their current employer. Moving up is likely to come with a boost in compensation, too.

  • A lateral move in terms of title. The candidate may be perfectly happy to move sidewise – if more money is involved.

  • A position that broadens their skills. An executive who’s been confined to marketing, for example, may want to explore doing business development at a new company.

  • The opportunity to expand their operational bandwidth. A finance manager may seek a chance to take on additional pieces of the finance function they haven’t managed before or take on functions that could put them on a CFO track.

The typical search for a senior-level employee can take as long as six months, Suter says. And, once a talent acquisition pro has completed the search to the client’s satisfaction, the pro may have an “in” with the client down the road. The client will know that “you brought something to the table,” Suter says. “You not only have some credibility, but some information now about the type of candidates the client wants to go and find.

“That’s how recruiters differentiate themselves.”