From job description to search to screening, traps and dangers lurk

Q. I am the founder and CEO for a $20 million distribution company. Our general manager of five years has informed me that he will be moving out of state in June to be closer to his family. He has recommended the operations manager whom he hired two years ago as his replacement. The problem is that the operations manager is not qualified to be a general manager; he lacks formal education and essential knowledge and experience required to be successful. What are my options?

A. The good news is that the GM has given you plenty of notice to locate the best candidate for the job and ample time for knowledge transfer and mentoring.

You are not obligated to promote your current operations manager to the GM position. I’m certain that the company has changed over the past five years, and this will give you an opportunity to update and possibly upgrade the position requirements.

If the operations manager shows interest in the position, give him or her the opportunity to be a part of the selection process.

First, it is imperative that you develop a job description that clearly defines the day-to-day responsibilities, required skills, education and experience. Be clear about who this person is, where they come from and create a “best fit” profile. You will need to determine if the best fit is someone who comes from your industry and has deep knowledge about your products and services or from outside your industry who can bring a fresh perspective.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for bringing this person on board? What problems are you trying to solve? Make certain that the compensation package is market competitive and will attract and retain the best talent. Please do not start the selection process until you have gone through this exercise and have received buy in from all decision makers and key stakeholders.

Next you will need to decide how you will attract talent to your organization. Do you post an advertisement online and hope for the best? There are numerous places to post jobs today from career sites to social networking platforms to industry niche sites. Ask yourself, do you want your customers and competitors to be knowledgeable about such a critical change to the organization and appear weak? Or do you engage with a search firm to locate the best candidate for the job and keep your business private?

Online advertisements will produce hundreds of responses due to millions of people being out of work. It is tempting with some job boards charging as low as $75 per posting. Just remember that you get what you pay for. What are the hidden costs of placing an online ad?

I’ll tell you, they are the lost productive working hours that you and your team will be required to input to review resumes, conduct phone screens and lengthy interviews. How do you know that the resumes you are reviewing are not fabricated? How do you know that the person you are phone screening is not playing you? How do you know that the person you have invited into your company for a full day of interviews and incurred travel costs is the real thing?

You don’t.

These are desperate times for people, and survival instincts are in play. People will do whatever it takes to land a job. There is great risk involved in hiring an unknown resource. Because you are an employer legally you are not able to ask those many important questions. I don’t see the point of wasting valuable time interviewing potential candidates for your No. 1 position in the company if you don’t have all the facts.

Most companies who approach filling a position through their own efforts will turn this over to their human resources department and in some cases the actual hiring manager. Their time, resources and network are very limited, and they lack the necessary expertise. Keep in mind that the cost of a hiring mistake can add up to three times the annual base salary.

Acquiring talent is not merely a transaction but an extensive process with many layers. Great recruiters take the time to get to know you and your team and understand the company’s history, milestones and challenges. They are knowledgeable about your products and services, your culture and plans for the future. They consider themselves an extension of the client. They focus on developing candidates with the education, knowledge, skills and abilities you need.

Great recruiters are visionary; selling the dream position, company mission, vision and values. Great recruiters are professional networkers and are able to locate people who might not otherwise be looking for a new opportunity via their own network or referred to them by a trusted source.

Great recruiters undertake significant screening, assessments and background checks, usually narrowing down the search to three to five candidates. Great recruiters deliver a compelling argument about why someone should consider your opportunity versus their current job or other positions. You only get one chance to hit a home run. Are you and your internal team qualified at pitching a home run opportunity?

Most companies who engage with a search firm are facing the following challenges:

A senior-level role is open, and the organization must be represented in a professional, courteous and discreet manner.

A confidential replacement search must be conducted in a timely and discreet manner.

A target search with a comprehensive investigation of the talent pool from your competition

A talent search is required to supplement succession planning and growth strategies.

A new position requires extensive research and market penetration to provide the selection committee with adequate information to define a profile and promote a role.

A high-level executive will most likely explore an opportunity if a company is represented by a search firm with an exclusive arrangement. An executive should feel confident that any dialogue with a search firm will be discreet, confidential and efficient.

Remember, acquiring talent is not merely a transaction but an extensive process with many layers.


Jennifer Laxton is a senior partner and executive coach with Executive Search Associates in Santa Rosa, www.esa.com. ESA is an executive search and consulting company. You can reach her at 707-217-4535 or jklaxton@esa.com.