How to Start an Executive Search: 5 Key Considerations

Like any complex process, an executive search requires forethought and planning if it is to succeed. The biggest mistake a hiring organization can make is to proceed with the recruiting aspect of a search without giving proper consideration to the underlying conditions, environment, and support structure.

What, then, are the key considerations? The following are kernels of wisdom that, if addressed thoughtfully, build a foundation for a successful search.

  1. Embrace the Opportunity. An executive search is about much more than just filling a role. View it as an opportunity to step back and reflect on the role’s past, present, and future – and that of the organization. Consider, “Where are we going, and how will this new executive help to get us there?” This is the perfect time to evaluate strategic goals, programs, and services, as well as expectations for leadership. For recruiting a CEO, president or other high-level position, a formal organizational assessment may be in order. In this broader context, the recruitment becomes a cause for optimism and exploration. The search experience can be an exciting opportunity for the organization and the stakeholders who participate.
  2. Convene the Right Search Committee. If the decision around a hire requires consensus, form a search committee of passionate individuals who represent your organization’s varied constituents. A great search committee will have:
    1. A clear mandate: The members of the committee must understand the parameters within which it will operate, and its ultimate charge (eg, recommend a candidate of choice, or narrow the field down to a few?)
    2. A strong chair: The chair sets the tone for the entire committee, needing political savvy and interpersonal skills. This individual should facilitate broad engagement and, where necessary, drive toward consensus and decision-making.
    3. The right representation: Members should have expertise, knowledge of, and passion for the organization and the ability to evaluate candidates objectively. It is also important to prioritize diversity of members and opinions.
    4. Time and availability: The amount of time needed to conduct a comprehensive search is significant and requires individuals to prioritize responsibilities and be consistent during this key period.
  3. Craft a Dynamic Leadership Profile. A carefully developed position profile is the foundation for a successful search. The leadership profile aligns key stakeholders and the search committee around qualities and prerequisites that are essential for ideal candidates and provides a framework for the role’s priorities and responsibilities. Importantly, the profile should brim with energy and enthusiasm for the position. It should be viewed as a marketing document – conveying the vision and passion of the organization and enticing the best candidates in the field to want to apply.
  4. Commit to Diversity. Leadership diversity strengthens and transforms organizations. Achieving leadership diversity requires a broad-based strategy that predates the start of a search. Working with your search consultants, ask: How will we ensure a diverse slate of candidates? Where can we source diverse individuals from? How can we ensure that the search process is equitable and respectful of all candidates, free of biases? The hiring manager or committee must have these important conversations before the organization reaches out into the market. Later, when evaluating candidates, challenge them to demonstrate their ability and/or present their accomplishments in championing diversity initiatives in their current organizations or within their respective fields.
  5. Contemplate an Interim: If an executive position is already or soon to be open, placing an interim can ensure that the organization maintains its strategic direction and sustains day-to-day In some cases, a designated internal executive may fill the role, with a few caveats:
    1. Asking one executive to take on two roles can be an arduous challenge.
    2. Avoid giving false signals to a temporary appointment. The title interim does not mean acting.

In most cases, an external interim leader can successfully fill the role. This placement has the ability to take an objective look at the position and organization, and provide valuable input to inform the search for the permanent successor.

Starting a search requires careful thought and consideration to these opening stages. Key early decisions affect every subsequent phase of the process, and determine the ultimate success of the search.

If would like more information on how WittKieffer can assist with your search process, including the planning phases, please click here.