Only 10% of C-level candidates are good: How can you attract them?

An optimist might claim that around 20%-30% of C-level candidates are strong. A slightly more pessimistic (and perhaps more realistic) view might put the figure at more like 10%. There’s little point in debating over what the exact figure actually is – it is immaterial. What is clear is that there is never likely to be a shortage of candidates when it comes to C-level positions. However, finding the very best candidates from a field is a challenge. Part of that challenge is ensuring that your offer is going to be highly attractive to the very best candidates. Another challenge is ensuring that your application process is designed to identify the top talent.

The first step is to fully grasp what the direction is that the company should be taking over the next few years. Understanding what the requisite skills are and, crucially, how these skills are currently represented or missing from the executive team will help the organisation to clearly define who you will want to recruit.

Armed with this understanding, a detailed job description can be developed. The focus should be the skills, attributes and personal qualities that will enable the company to accomplish its goals over the next few years. These are the key priorities. It is a wise move to circulate the draft job description so that board members and the senior executives who will work for, and with, the successful candidate have an opportunity to input and comment.

The interview process is of fundamental importance. While this point is obvious, it is where many organisations fail. Naturally, some sort of screening process will take place. However, it is vital that the person charged with doing the screening fully understands the high level skill set that the organisation is looking for. Involving board members and key executives at the earliest possible stage is important. It also sends out a positive message to candidates.

After each interview stage, the recruitment team should convene to review their feelings about a candidate. At this stage it is typical for discussions to become dominated by comments and opinions about a candidate’s personality and softer attributes and qualities. Clearly, the chemistry does need to be right. The candidate needs to ‘fit’ – but it’s the skill set that a candidate possesses and their personality type that is most likely to determine their success.

Organisations should interview until at least three strong candidates are found, but try to do this as quickly as possible. Obviously, it is the very best candidates that will remain available for the shortest period of time. You are looking for a fantastic candidate. Organisations should not be afraid of repeating the process until the perfect candidate is found. This is why having an interim executive is particularly useful. It enables a company to take their time to get it right. Compromise and mistakes at this stage will prove highly costly.

Another thing that an organisation should take their time with is negotiating a package with the successful candidate. The very best talent will fully appreciate their true value in the marketplace, and will want nothing less than the best package as a result. Regardless of current conditions, if you want to secure the highest quality candidates then the organisation needs to be prepared to pay a fair market price, as an absolute minimum. The negotiating skills of the candidate are important too. The candidate that negotiates strongly for them self will be one that negotiates well for the company in the future.

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