This is an abbreviated version of an article originally published on forEntrepreneurs: The Close: 6 New Rules for Hiring Executive Candidates
The amount of time and effort required to close a senior executive is surprisingly high, and many founders underestimate this, and lose candidates they could have closed. But since hiring a strong executive management team is one of the most proven ways to ensure startup success, it is worth the investment.
Here are a few rules to keep in mind when closing executive candidates:
Closing is about selling, and it needs to start early. Unless you already have a well known brand, the very best candidates are almost certainly going to need a lot of selling on why they should even talk to you. Before you are even at the point of interviewing them, you are going to have to sell them on why this is an opportunity they should consider. Then, you have to pull off a tough balancing act of gathering information about them to determine if they are a good fit, while also continuing to sell. The solution is to incorporate selling into the interview. Most people like to talk about themselves and their achievements, so throughout the process of getting to know a candidate, show interest in who they are and their career history. Focus on reacting very positively as they share with you and show a genuine interest in their story. This article on the 12 Tactics to Perfect Your Interviewing Process provides more details on the interview process.
Now more than ever, hiring candidates is very similar to selling customers. Top talent has all the latitude and you need to treat your candidates like your customers. You need to understand what matters to them and how they’re thinking about you, and also build a personal connection. Find out what their key personal drivers are — a particular kind of work challenge, quality of relationship with their boss, ability to learn something new, time with kids, flexible commute, exposure to the board of directors, etc. Tailoring the offer based on these drivers and including personal gestures (like a handwritten note about why you think they will be a great fit at the company, or even a non expensive, but personal gift that shows you know them) can be incredibly powerful in the hands of a founder who is sincere and genuine about them.
Throughout the interview process, stand out from your competition by showing candidates that you truly value getting to know them and are committed to making your company the best fit for them. The current hiring environment rewards startups that recruit aggressively yet at the same time exhibit patience and humility and make an effort to truly understand the candidate’s needs. Be prepared to show your commitment by meeting on-site and off-site, outside weekday work hours, and on weekends. Drive to meet them if you need to, and be open to talking over coffee, lunch, dinner, or drinks. These encounters outside the workplace allow you to develop a deeper connection and, as a bonus, give you more data on the candidate’s fit with the company.
How and when you talk about compensation matters. Recruiters often advise companies to do a gut check on compensation and probe on expectations early in the process. For executive hires, this can be a mistake and can derail the whole process. Use benchmark data to understand the general bands top executives at startups are earning. But, know that the compensation you end up offering will vary significantly based on the individual needs of your candidate. Then make the early interviewing process all about getting to know the candidate and screening for fit. Once you’ve determined the candidate is the best person for the job, you can have a stand alone compensation discussion.
You need to be prepared to walk candidates through the specific value of your equity offer. While you understand intimately your company’s value, outside candidates likely won’t. Don’t be afraid to show candidates the money with pencil and paper — it’s worth them understanding that it’s more complicated than a simple X shares at $Y IPO is worth Z, and they’ll appreciate you sharing details that matter to their decision.
In our experience, your VC can also be really effective in selling your company. Your team and your investors are obviously on the same page as far as reaching a good outcome for your company. Venture capitalists also do a lot of executive hiring — more so than the average executive at a startup — and can offer an independent view of the company to candidates.
Read the full post on forEntrepreneurs here: The Close: 6 New Rules for Hiring Executive Candidates.