So, one of your senior leadership team members is looking to step down, leaving big shoes to fill. Of course, you could promote someone internally to fill their role, but nobody stands out.

It’s time to find a new candidate who can bring fresh perspectives and energy to your organisation. Someone with the right experience and qualifications who can help lead your organisation to new heights. Someone with vision. You’ve just interviewed the perfect person and are ready to start the contract negotiation but wait… it looks like they’ve already been snapped up by one of your competitors. Damn. Back to the drawing board.

Finding the perfect candidate to fill a role is never particularly easy, but finding and attracting the ideal person for a senior leadership role is a major challenge. You not only need to identify the right person – who is probably already in high demand from other employers – but you also need to convince them to come on board with amazing recruitment marketing and a great value proposition. No biggie.

How can you overcome these challenges and get the best talent at the head of your organisation? There’s no need to pay an expensive retainer for some search firm or consultant; here’s how you can run an effective executive search strategy in-house.

Executive search explained

Before we look at techniques your team can use to improve the executive search process, let’s quickly recap what executive search means.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines executive search simply as ‘the business or activity of finding suitable managers and executives for companies.’

Also referred to as headhunting, executive search is the process of finding qualified candidates for executive and senior-level positions in an organisation. These positions may include CEO, CFO, vice president, and director-level roles.

Compared to regular recruitment, executive search takes a more in-depth and strategic approach. The search process begins with the internal talent acquisition team, consultant, or executive search firm establishing an in-depth understanding of the organisation and its company culture, values, specific requirements, and future goals. This informs the recruiting process, which involves sourcing top talent, multiple rounds of interviews and assessments, careful checking of qualifications and references, and high levels of discretion and confidentiality throughout. This strategy for recruiting candidates for leadership positions often takes a lot longer than regular hiring processes.

So, how can in-house talent acquisition teams enhance their executive search strategy? Here are some key tips.

Create detailed candidate profiles

The first steps an executive search firm will undergo include getting to know your organisation’s culture, values, business goals, and personnel requirements. This can involve in-depth research, lengthy consultations, and a lot of back-and-forth between the agency and the client. Fortunately, handling the executive search in-house means you already have a great understanding of the organisational culture and needs; you can start crafting ideal candidate profiles straight away.

Detailed candidate profiles go beyond the basic qualifications and skills required for entry-level and mid-level roles. When searching for executive level role candidates, you need to craft comprehensive candidate profiles that encompass the responsibilities, industry knowledge, technical skills, and leadership qualities necessary for the executive position. What will make a candidate a good cultural fit? What expertise and skills do key stakeholders want to see in these candidates for leadership? What common characteristics and values do other executives in the organisation possess?

The more detail you can provide for your candidate profile, the more effectively you can evaluate different candidates throughout the screening, assessment, and interview processes. You can even take this a step further by drawing up a candidate persona, a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate based on careful research and qualitative and quantitative data.

Leverage your talent pool

Your existing talent pool is one of the most valuable resources for executive search, providing a comprehensive database of potential candidates who may have the relevant skills and experience. However, having the information and contact details of these many potential candidates is not enough – it’s important to be able to segment your talent pool based on skill and experience levels to ensure you can identify the most promising individuals for executive roles. Segmentation even allows for custom communications with different types of prospective candidates, helping recruitment teams keep them engaged with the organisation.

However, it’s probably unlikely that the top talent for those high-level positions is already in your talent pool – after all, you would likely have already tried to hire them for a different role. These highly sought-after individuals may need to be engaged in another way and fortunately your talent pool can help. By encouraging candidates in your talent pool to refer other qualified individuals for executive positions, you can widen the network and gain access to more suitable candidates. Keep in mind that offering incentives or referral programs can help motivate people to expand your talent pool.

Streamline your process

In high-stakes recruitment for roles like CEO, vice president, CFO, and more, it’s more important than ever that your hiring process is as efficient as possible. Not only does an efficient hiring process mean that you can speed up time-to-hire and save on costs, but it also means a better candidate experience that will reduce the risk of high-value talent dropping out along the way.

The best way to streamline your hiring process is through a powerful applicant tracking system like Hireserve ATS. From intuitive online interviewing to secure signing and even SMS integration, the recruitment software ensures a smooth, fair, and replicable process for every candidate.

On the in-house recruiters’ side, a streamlined hiring process also delivers significant benefits. Automated workflows such as automatic reference requests and job board integrations cut down on recruiters’ admin time, allowing your team to focus on hiring the perfect candidate for those executive-level roles.

Don’t forget candidate vetting and reference checks

Even if you think you have found the perfect candidate, reference checking and candidate vetting should never be overlooked. A candidate may look like a real winner on paper, but when it comes to critical leadership roles in the organisation it’s essential that recruiters delve deeper into the individuals’ professional backgrounds and suitability.

Reference checks involve getting input from candidates’ former colleagues or supervisors to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their performance, interpersonal skills, knowledge of the sector, values, and work ethic. While for some entry-level roles reference checks may be purely a formality, for executive hiring decisions they’re an essential part of the process. Questions for references should involve the candidates’ work and leadership style, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Background checks are also crucial at this stage to ensure that there are no discrepancies in candidates’ educational backgrounds or credentials. While pre-employment checks are important for all new employees, detailed vetting is essential for the executive recruitment process to mitigate risks or liabilities.

Understand that your recruitment strategy will vary

Most of all, it’s important to understand that your recruiting strategies for top-level executives will vary substantially from lower-level recruitment strategies. While factors like a candidate’s fit with the company culture and their previous work experience are important at all levels within the organisation, these are paramount for high-level executives and senior leadership. Your recruitment strategy will naturally reflect this with more time and resources being dedicated to finding candidates for these top positions.

To streamline tasks and boost accuracy at every level of the recruitment process, try Hireserve ATS. As a best-in-class applicant tracking system designed specifically for in-house recruitment teams, Hireserve ATS has everything you need to make better hires. Book your free demo today to find out more.


About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.