Most executives’ hiring skills are sorely lacking. A couple of years ago, I consulted with a medium-sized company’s Board of Directors to sharpen their ability to recruit and select senior executives from the outside after a couple of bad hiring decisions had nearly buried the company. As a first step, I completed a post-mortem of a couple of catastrophic hiring decisions with the chairman and executive committee. Both revealing and disturbing, these experiences can also be instructive for you.

First, in neither case did they develop a list of the specific strategic hurdles facing the company, and the special challenges they posed for executive hires. This point is critical: “Generic” management or leadership challenges do not exist. Nor do generic leaders. Organizations, like products, have life-cycles. A company facing a growth challenge in a hyper-competitive market has leadership priorities and, by extension, recruiting challenges that are different than those facing a company, department or division confronting bloated expenses.

Second, when looking for executives, this Board of Directors never searched for the attributes of personality and character that would comport with the company’s unique challenges and profile. A candidate is more than the linear progression of job experiences detailed on her résumé. She is also more than a bundle of knowledge, capabilities and skills. Two questions you need to answer when hiring senior executives:

* To what degree are courage, focus, discipline, resourcefulness, resilience, perseverence, persistence, endurance, physical fitness, self-knowledge and self-regulation important?
* How do you uncover the presence or absence of those attributes in the recruiting and selection process?

If you haven’t answered these questions, you need to.

Third, this Board of Directors was ill-equipped to conduct senior executive interviews. Each interview was an awkward dance resulting in only the following two outcomes:

* They knew if they liked each candidate, at least superficially, and
* They got clarity on the elements detailed on each candidate’s résumé.

Behavioral interviewing is now the accepted gold standard in interviewing. Here’s how to do it: Start every probe with the following phrase: “Tell me about a time that you…”

I tell my clients that the best place to start, after getting through the niceties, small talk and courtesies, is with the following request: “Tell me about a time that you failed.” You will learn more about an executive from her response to that request and the follow-ups that ensue than any other question you ask; I guarantee it.

Executive selection is too important to consider it a “nice-to-do” process. By dedicating the resources necessary to do a great job, you’ll avoid pain and additional cost down the road.

2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit