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Will your Search Process Pass the Fitness Test?

When we begin a new search on a client’s behalf, we meet with the hiring manager and leadership team to fully understand the position, its scope and responsibilities, and its place in the organization. Clients speak at length about the requirements of the role and the consequent qualifications they are looking for in candidates. They outline desired work experience, educational credentials, industry sector experience, etc. They often have a very specific set of requirements related to candidate qualifications – most of which can be ascertained by reviewing candidate resumes and interviewing them.

In a prior life, I worked with clients who were dismissing executives, sometimes because they were not successful in their roles. When I would ask clients why the executive failed, they seldom said things like “Well, she only had seven years of management experience instead of ten years” or “He went to a state school and not an Ivy League university.”

Instead, I heard things like “He always had to be the smartest person in the room” or “She couldn’t work collaboratively across departments” or “He just wasn’t seen as a credible, genuine leader.”

So, the “derailers,” if you will, had little to do with concrete work experience and credentials. Instead, they were tied to style, emotional intelligence and those most elusive of concepts – cultural fit and chemistry.

When recruiting a new executive to a company, the assessment of their cultural fit is arguably the most difficult part of the process. After 15 years of finding the right people for the right job, here are three things I always tell clients to do when evaluating fit:

  1. Be realistic about who you are as a company and what kinds of people are successful in your organization. We all aspire to be something more than we are, or something different. But when hiring senior-level talent, it is absolutely critical that the hiring manager has a realistic view of their company’s culture and values. Look around at the people who make important contributions to your organization – those who have been there for a while. The common characteristics they share are probably something you should seek in a new hire.
  2. Involve lots of people in the interview process. Some companies go overboard on this, but it is absolutely critical that a candidate meet a true cross-section of people during client interviews – peers, leaders of other functions and members of the team they will lead. It doesn’t help to hide the indispensible curmudgeonly genius in R&D so as not to scare away a potential hire. They are going to have to deal with them eventually and it is better if they enter the job with open eyes.
  3. Take referencing seriously. I’ve always felt one of the most important things we do for clients is candidate referencing. I am always amazed at the things references will say to a trained search consultant. We speak to bosses, peers and subordinates to get a full picture of the candidate. If you talk to enough people and ask the right questions, you usually end up with a realistic picture of the candidate’s true style, strengths and weaknesses.

Because everything we do involves people and their foibles, quirks and eccentricities, there is no sure-fire way to guarantee cultural fit. But I know for sure that you will not be able to evaluate it from a resume.

2 Responses

  1. John – great point. Sometime just taking the time to have a meal can help measure fit on both sides. I have had the experience recently of filling a very senior role. We had the final three candidates over the course of a week, have a informal, small plate dinner with a search team. By the end of the third meal we had our winner and it was all about fit. It didn’t take dinner to rehash the resume and it certainly wasn’t about what fork someone used or when they took pepper on their salad. All three candidates were qualified. The question was who would fit best.

    (Side note – we used the same restaurant and had the same server. We asked her for her input and she picked the outcome in exact alignment with our professional search team.)

    Thanks for the post.


  2. Bill – Love the idea of getting input from the server – and the overall idea for a meal together. We frequently get input from our receptionist on candidates.

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