This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia.

It's a tight market for C-level talent, and the most competitive environment for top performers that we've ever seen. Companies looking to recruit A-players in this formidable landscape need a well thought-out strategy to attract that level of talent. Highly talented executives aren’t going to respond to a want ad, but if you can find someone who’s not really happy with the company they’re working for, they would answer a call from a recruiter who has a compelling offer.

What should companies understand about recruiting top talent?

Companies looking to recruit top-tier C-level talent need to understand that these individuals will be evaluating the company as much as the company is evaluating them.
That means companies doing the recruiting need to put a good deal of thought and effort into the process.

Companies should invest a good amount of time before the search process begins to develop their recruiting story and ensure everyone is on the same page. That way, as candidates come into the process and meet the individuals who might ultimately be their C-level peers, the message they receive is clear and consistent. This should not be thought of as a sales pitch. Rather, the aim is to be open and transparent about expectations, the position the company is in and why it’s looking to fill this executive role.

It’s also critical to think about compensation beforehand, and consider a strategy that will reward long-term growth. While candidates likely won’t take a reduction in overall compensation for a new position, they might very well make a base-salary-lateral move if the long-term compensation, based on performance, is attractive.

What mistakes lead to companies missing out on the better candidates?

One common mistake is an interview process that is unnecessarily long. Due diligence is vitally important for these roles, but you also need to be mindful of the candidates’ circumstances. They are key employees in their companies, so their time is limited. They also may be fielding other offers. Therefore, try to keep the process moving along as much as possible to limit the risk of losing out on a candidate.

Transparency from the outset of the process is also key. Companies should tell candidates how long they expect the process to take, and what steps are involved. Some candidates may admit right away that they can’t commit. But for those who can, a transparent process can help build trust between both parties — candidates know what they’re getting into and companies can feel confident that they’ve found the right fit. An in-depth process also creates familiarity with the company, enough so that the candidate can hit the ground running right from the start.

How should companies adjust their staffing strategy during a tight labor market?

Be proactive. Companies that are really ahead of the curve are doing a lot of aggressive succession planning, and for more than just the CEO position. It’s important to have someone in the organization examining each department to see whether or not there are people who could climb the metaphorical ladder.

Consider this exercise: Imagine who in the organization would be tough to replace if they were to suddenly give notice to the company on a Monday that they’re leaving. Then, talk with those people and try to determine whether they feel they’re properly incentivized to stay. Also, consider whether there are people below them who could be trained to take over the position. From there, you can formulate a plan for what it will take to keep the top performer in place, as well as how you can build bench strength should the need arise in the future.

The war for talent is real. Those companies that want to hire the best candidates need to be prepared: have a great story and a compelling incentive program to put your best foot forward as an organization.●

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