Opinion: Key questions all HR pros must ask to fill a top-level position

Irene McConnell suggests five questions to ask in order to attract, hire and retain executive candidates

Opinion: Key questions all HR pros must ask to fill a top-level position

Irene McConnell suggests five questions to ask in order to attract, hire and retain executive candidates

Everywhere we look, businesses are seeking to reimagine themselves against a backdrop of rapid technological and societal change.

We know that talent is the great competitive advantage.

But how can we, as HR professionals, find and keep the best executive candidates in an era when social responsibility is just as important as productivity and businesses need not merely a digital strategy, but a strategy for the digital age?

We need to take a step back

Thinking beyond the HR function, and outside the restrictive bubble of competency-based interviewing, we must realise it’s no longer just about the skillset, but the mindset.

The three essential qualities which separate top talent from the rest of the pack are:

  • comfortability with being uncomfortable
  • strong business acumen in someone who understands that “digital” is not simply a more trendy name for “IT”
  • collaborative skills that can surface new ideas from unexpected sources.

To attract, hire and retain executive candidates who possess these traits, we need to ask ourselves the following 5 questions:

1. Is this candidate a transformational leader?

Have they really driven change in any significant way, or just engaged consultants to do the thinking for them? Can they take the team with them on a journey where the way ahead is not yet clear?

2. Is the candidate's diverse background an advantage?

Recruiters and hiring managers often suffer from “square peg, square hole” syndrome, preferring candidates with linear job histories and without any major job shifts on their resumes.

This approach can filter out highly suitable candidates whose complex work histories are a product of their emotional intelligence-based competencies - e.g., curiosity, flexibility and adaptability.

Evaluate a candidate’s career for “experiences,” not just experience. Where
has an executive taken a role simply to learn something or to take a calculated risk, rather than for a salary increase or another step up the ladder?

3. Can the candidate lead multi-generational teams?

For the first time in history we have five generations in the workforce. Youth means fresh ideas and age should mean knowing what works. Grey-haired Eric Schmidt took Google into growth.

Your company needs young minds keen to innovate without being crippled by fear of failure, and older minds flexible enough to embrace the new, but experienced enough to execute flawlessly.

4. What does this specific candidate want to accomplish in this position - and how can we contribute to that?

Money is not the sole motivator. Larry Fink’s recent letter to CEOs is a sign that leaders are increasingly dissatisfied with roles that have a single-minded focus on financial growth.

Deloitte, in its recently released 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report also warns that “social capital has become just as important as human, financial and physical capital”.

Does your company support this outlook and, if so, are the candidate’s own values and ambitions aligned with it?

5. Does my company offer digital development opportunities?

MIT Sloan research shows that executives are highly likely to jump ship if they don’t have opportunities to develop digital skills.

To become a magnet for top executive talent, a business needs to offer more than traditional training opportunities.

Instead, it must create a compelling and safe environment for employees to acquire, test and refine digital skills and experience.


About the author

Irene McConnell is Managing Director, Arielle Careers

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