Mastering Executive Recruitment: Balancing Reputation and Results for Success

Hiring at the executive level always comes with challenges. Professionals entering into a C-suite position join with high-stakes expectations, faced with the pressure of making an immediate impact. Per Barron’s, “according to an about-to-be-released study by Equilar, which tracks corporate leadership, the average tenure for S&P 500 CEOs between 2013 and 2022 was down 5.2% — from 7.6 years to 7.2 years. But looking at the median, or midpoint, reveals a more dramatic shift: During the same period, the median CEO tenure plunged 20%, from six years to 4.8 years.” Pressure to perform or get booted translates to a justifiably intense focus on quick-turned-sustained success. 

Recruiters and HR professionals understandably place a premium on seeing measurable, immediate results from new executive hires out of the gate, as a mis-hire can prove costly. According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder back in 2017, 74% of employers have admitted to hiring the wrong person for a position, leading to the company losing 30% to 150% of the employee’s first-year salary in revenue. With an entry-level employee, that percentage leads to a lesser loss in profit. For a C-level hire bringing in between six and seven figures, losing 150% of that executive’s salary can have an outsized impact on a company’s financial success. 

While no single formula can guarantee the perfect hire, a strategic balance between reputation and results in the vetting process has the power to drive stronger outcomes. This effort begins with identifying organizational needs. Upon determining those key skills, develop a clear brief that can serve as the central framework for vetting hires. Need someone who can convert prospects into new business? Take a look at executives who brought in wins during prior tenures. Want to enhance company culture? Look for professionals who have track records of building successful teams and driving results. 

It can become tempting to take a look at an executive’s LinkedIn and, in seeing a series of household names and brands, fight to hire them immediately. However recruiters and HR professionals must separate organizational and individual success. An agency might have won a string of brands under a CPG giant under a particular Chief Strategy Officer’s tenure – but that CSO might have converted those wins on the backs of their team members. Time and again, I have seen people get plucked from the hottest agencies for recruiters to discover that that person’s successes tie to their former workplace at large versus their individual prowess. Verifying individual involvement in past successes during the interview process can help mitigate this issue from the outset. 

When advertising agencies search for Chief Creative Officers, award success often serves as the standard metric for consideration. But while Lions and Clios confirm a certain level of pedigree, HR professionals and recruiters must consider those successes as part of a broader set of criteria. I suggest ensuring that the demands of the prior and current roles match, considering the distinction between internal and external leadership skills. Let’s say a CCO spent ten years running the Nike account at one agency before moving over to a competitor. In their new role, the executive in question becomes tasked with managing a diverse book of business in the fintech space, as well as a large team, for the first time. Lack of exposure to a less sexy vertical, paired with limited managerial experience, might prevent that CCO from seeing the limitations of the sector, misplacing blame on the team for developing more cut-and-dry creative.

Ultimately, finding the ideal C-level hire comes down to a focus on balance – balance between reputation and results, internal and external management skills, professional and people skills. By taking a holistic approach to vetting prospective executive hires, you have the power to ensure sustained financial and cultural success for your company. 

By Sasha Martens