C-level candidates depend on executive recruiters (ERs) when considering a new job. The ER serves as a representative of the hiring company and in this capacity, the ER should be able to
understand and articulate the company culture, expectations of the role, what success looks like, the attributes of the ideal candidate, and why he/she believes you are a good fit. However, as in any job, there is variance in the quality, knowledge and skill that ERs have to make a good, candidate-firm match.
I was talking with Karen Fenaroli, Managing Partner and CEO of Fenaroli & Associates (specializing in C-Suite, VP roles, and Board placements) about ER variance when she started describing common mistakes ERs make when working with C-level candidates—and how these mistakes can lead to a bad match and potential failure. As a former candidate for a few such jobs, I wish I had talked to Fenaroli 15 years ago as I had never considered that the ERs presenting opportunities might not be skilled in accurately representing jobs. Below is Fenaroli’s insight on the common mistakes ERs make and the key questions candidates should ask.
4 Common Mistakes ERs Make That Set You Up To Fail:
1. The ER doesn’t know the company well. This failure to fully understand the company is then reflected in a poorly written job spec (and poorly understood company need). Essentially, junk in – junk out. You have to know a company well to write a good job spec and unfortunately, some companies just copy and paste sections from old job specs, taking a short-cut that can lead to inaccurate communication to candidates about the firm. In contrast, really good ERs deeply understand the company—from the leaders to the strategy to the need to the role that the position they are recruiting for needs to play. Just as a scout for an NBA team needs to have complete understanding of the team, its culture, its weaknesses, and then identify the right player to augment and strengthen the team, ERs need to be as knowledgeable about the firms they represent.
The questions every candidate should ask: How well do you know the company? What have you done to understand the company? How long have you been working with the company? Tell me about the relationship you have with the firm. If this is the first search the ER has done with the firm, the candidates will need to conduct more due diligence to ensure that the job spec is accurate.
How do you know that I am a good fit for this company? Do you have a DNA matrix or some testing approach that helps me understand the DNA of the company and the degree to which I fit? Do you do any culture testing during this process?
Also, don’t be afraid to ask if the job spec was written from scratch or if sections were copied from other job specs. If the job spec wasn’t created from scratch, then the candidate will need to work harder to understand what the real job is for which they are interviewing.
2. The ER doesn’t understand the compensation in the marketplace and therefore hasn’t priced the job correctly. For the recruiter to be able to price the job accurately, they need to have data and an extensive network. And when ERs don’t understand comp, they could be recruiting at the wrong level. For example, an ER could be talking to a candidate who is all-in at $1,000,000. The ER goes down the path of selling both the candidate and the company on each other and then, late in the process, they realize that the company won’t stretch to the candidate’s level. This then blows up the recruiter’s credibility.
The questions every candidate should ask: How do you know the compensation level in this search is right? Have you done a compensation study?
3. The ER doesn’t know, set, or communicate appropriate expectations. A lot of ERs will oversell the company. In their zeal to excite candidates, the ER may ignore key issues (like the CEO has a terrible reputation for being abusive or culture challenges or business challenges). ERs attempt to present the company as being nearly perfect. One of two things can happen. The candidate figures this out and becomes disenchanted and abandons the search (and the ER has not only lost a candidate but a prospective client) or the candidate doesn’t realize the mistake, takes the job, and then leaves the job because of expectation disconfirmation (i.e., expectations don’t match reality). In either case, this jeopardizes the reputation of the company, the ER and the candidate.
The questions every candidate should ask: What expectations does the client have for success—in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year? How will it be measured? Are the expectations reasonable (i.e., see here for more insight on how important it is for the job design to match expectations)?
4. The ER forgets that today’s candidate will be tomorrow’s client. I have heard really unbelievable stories about how some candidates have been treated: 1) recruiters “dropping” candidates and not calling them back, 2) recruiters treating the candidate with disrespect, 3) recruiters misrepresenting job opportunities, 4) recruiters overselling the job (in point 3). It’s short-sighted to do this. When you are working with a C-level leader, these individuals may very well be in a position to recommend or decide on a recruiting firm in the future. While ERs should treat all candidates well—because it is the right thing to do—it’s also good for business.
The questions every candidate should ask: If comfortable, ask the following. Who do I know that you’ve worked with that can essentially serve as a reference? How many of your past candidates later have become your client? What is the average amount of time your CMO placements last before they leave? How many of your past five-year placements are still with the company at which you placed them?