Brands Matter to Top C-Suite Talent – Make Yours Shine

Brands Matter to Top C-Suite Talent – Make Yours Shine

You as a brand, is a popular concept. It seems that people are embracing this concept and communicating their brand in their LinkedIn profiles, Twitter handles, resumes, and other social media profiles. How does this apply to the selection and hiring of top C-Suite talent?
One way to look at this is to identify the employers the person has worked with before and what their brand stands for. How does your company brand rank against this candidate’s previous employers? What do those brands and your brand stand for? What is this candidate’s personal brand communicating? This is very important when bringing on someone unfamiliar – someone you, your board of directors, or your team has not worked with at a prior company. Because you do not have the first-hand experience, you will rely on the brands the candidate has worked with to tell a story about the candidate.
For example, someone who has worked for a top-five industry leader (Merck, Goldman Sachs, Edwards, Illumina, Johnson & Johnson) or who graduated from a top university is going to have a higher standard of performance, a feeling of comfort when working with other people from similar companies and educational backgrounds. Each of these companies and academic institutions have a distinct brand and culture that is derived from the brand. How does work get done? How are processes, thinking, and behaviors influenced by these brands? Expectations for results will also be higher, especially if these individuals were top performers at these companies and academic institutions.
If your company is viewed as a top-performing company, or a “hot and up and coming company” attracting a candidate from a top school or other top brands will be easier. You are one step ahead in attracting good talent. If your target candidate is not similarly ranked as you are (i.e. either one of you is significantly better) then you need to answer questions, such as:
  • Why are you interested in them, or why are they interested in you?
  • Does this candidate bring a special set of skills, and are they ranked in the top 20% of performers in a similar role?
  • Why would this candidate be interested in your company?
  • What is it that they will gain by joining you?
  • How will candidate compensation be affected by brand comparisons?
  • Will my company be willing to stretch to acquire a prestigious candidate or will the candidate be lucky to join my company?
If you understand your position with respect to each candidate, and proactively adjust your approach, you will be both more efficient in your hiring process and candidate target selection. The most effective way to identify your “why” is to know your company values and mission, which naturally reflects the brand and focus of your business. For instance, “Our company develops technology to address unmet neurological disorders that affect over 10% of the world’s population.”
The brand conveys your “How” including how you execute and the standards you adhere to; and how people communicate within your organization. This creates impressions feelings, and it is how you will be remembered. It can also help you identify fit. Brand speaks to the level of quality, and standards (i.e. Walmart vs Nieman Marcus).
In summary – knowing your brand and knowing your candidate’s brand (and employment history / brands) will help you identify if the candidate is up to your standards, or whether your company is to their standards. This is a great filter and will help save you time and effort in the recruiting process.
Laura and her team specialize in working a very well-defined process to ultimately find you the very best executive talent in life sciences available. We have over 20 years building companies and relationships with the very best in the business.
How to Recruit Great Candidates: Managing Perceived Risk

How to Recruit Great Candidates: Managing Perceived Risk

We have all experienced it – make a great offer and boom, and your C-Suite candidate declines. WHAT??? How does this happen?

After all, you received verbal acceptance, you checked references and the last thing you thought was that the candidate was all in – or were they? Probably not.

Most candidates juggle perceived risk when making a decision to change from one company to another. Let’s examine the three main risk factors and how to uncover, address and negotiate them before you make an offer, ensuring you a hire.

There are four areas of risk for top candidates to consider:

New Manager Risk
New Team Risk
New Product/Service Risk
Market Risk

In our current recruiting climate, you will need to address each one of these risks, and likely address how you plan to navigate through the pandemic. You will need to make sure your opportunity exceeds what the candidate currently has, or he/she will not move.

New Manager Risk

Most important to address is the new manager risk. Assuming you are the hiring manager – this person
is coming to work with you. You need to show them what a great manager, and great person you are. You need to build trust to the point where your candidate believes and feels that you are the very best choice they have.

It goes beyond chemistry and into work ethic, integrity, trustworthiness, ability to lead, how well you communicate.

Finally, the candidate will assess how you treat them at
every step of the way in the recruitment process. You need to make sure you are consistently sending the appropriate signals, presenting an emotionally even persona, and following through promptly on all promises.

You cannot take too much time (more than a week or two) to deliberate on whether you like this person or not, it is imperative that you perform your candidate diligence in parallel with the hiring of the candidate – or you will lose them. You, or someone on your team, or the recruiter, will need to communicate continued interest to your selected candidate every 48-72 hours.

You should ask them out socially to dinner with their spouse or significant other – so you get a feel for what they are like (and they will get a feel for what you are like) in a more casual setting. Now with only outdoor dining, this gets people more relaxed and informal, you will actually get a glimpse into who this person really is.

Your process to hire from start to finish needs to be about 8-10 weeks max. If the candidate does not feel
important you will lose them. Conveying of sense of significance to the candidate can be as simple as
thanking them for their time, following up when you say you will, and communicating next steps and timelines while they are in the process. Also, addressing any concerns you may have openly will go a long way into building trust and a strong working relationship.

New Team Risk

The candidate will need to coalesce with his/her peers – the people you already have in the company at the executive level. It is important that all key stakeholders (maybe even a customer or two) be exposed to your top selected candidate.

It would be ideal if you sent candidates in a short time for everyone to meet, and decide if they are a good “fit” – you want the candidate to also share the fit sentiment – the
team and the candidate can see themselves working together in a productive manner. Communication
styles, work ethic and stamina, alignment all need to be considered in the fit equation. It should be a
mutual “feel”.

Group video interviews via Zoom/ Microsoft Teams/ etc. are growing in popularity and allow everyone to see each other’s reactions.

New Product/Service Risk

The candidate wants to feel comfortable that the product or service will perform, and that their contribution will make a significant impact on the business. Most candidates want to add something to their resume – that means that the “been there-done that” candidate is not going to be enticed unless you can offer them a skill or accomplishment to add to their CV.

For instance, a Chief Medical Officer/SVP Clinical
wants a product to go from start in the clinic until approval and market. A Chief Commercial Officer needs to have a product launch, and successful commercialization under their belt. A CFO wants to take a company public. You get the point. The CEO is a different animal, and typically loves a challenge, and wants to lead a team to develop a product that impacts the market in a way no other product has to
date, or fix a company that is under performing. The CEO will ultimately join because he/she feels that the board will support him, and he likes the product and the market opportunity, and feel like he/she can make an impact.

Market Risk

This is evaluated three ways – size of market opportunity, competitive landscape, and timing, is the market ready for this product/service?. Another factor to consider, is does the candidate buy in? Does your candidate think that the opportunity is real, and is the timing for this product in the market right now or soon?

Top-level candidates are going to evaluate opportunities in a way that others won’t. They are typically loyal and approach risk of change like this cautiously. Top-level candidates want to see a product through start to finish, and build strong relationships with their current CEO/ board and team. Your opportunity must be significantly improved from what the candidate currently has in order for you to acquire this talent.

A strong recruiter will assist you and inform you of what the candidate is really looking for in a new opportunity, and assist you in positioning your company as a top choice. In addition, a strong recruiter will only provide candidates that have an interest and are a good fit for you and your stage of development or growth. The recruiters also know the market and who is available and what the candidate’s motivation an appetite for change.

Remote Working – Getting Results

Remote Working – Getting Results

In this digital-age leaders are already vying for attention from their teams. The digital divide has happened. People are distracted by social media, glued to their mobile devices for texts, email and calls. Now people are not even in the office anymore – no more social pressure to limit distractions. How can you emerge victorious and increase both emotional closeness and engagement? Here are a few ideas:

Schedule regular communications

Move your 1:1 and team meetings to a video platform Video meetings require more engagement than a phone call, and you see physical cues and not relying solely on voice inflections

Be prepared, organized, open

You need to prepare for your communications – especially when you are home. Keep distractions to a minimum and know that things will come up. Tell people when you first get on the video call what your situation at home is – ie young children, the contractor, dogs, deliveries, etc.

First Check-in, know life can be messy, create an environment of trust.

  • Real-life can be messy – interruptions happen. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Allow your team to be open about the interruptions, be curious about their children, or pets.
  • At the beginning of the call be sure to check in with all participants – be sure your employees are healthy – both physically and mentally. Communicate empathy and let them know that you understand that this stay at home order is very disruptive to everyday business.
  • We are all adjusting to this long term imposed behavior change – not everyone on your team will embrace the changes, and some will need more assistance adjusting. Pair people up, one adjusting well with someone who is not adjusting well, so they can help each other.
  • Acknowledge the circumstances you find yourselves in, be vulnerable and share what you struggle with and leave room for open discussion, watch your team start to relax.

To increase collaboration, communicate plans & schedules clearly: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly

When you communicate expectations on a daily, weekly, monthly basis – it keeps people focused on the right priorities. You establish new routines and lay the path forward, set up a path for people to follow. Everyone understands their role, and you bring teams together. We are adjusting to performing and executing well in a distance working format.

Identify which remote tools you want to use to communicate with your teams

In addition to the video communications platform, you will likely also want to use accountability and project tracking tools. I use a tool called Monday.com to manage communications across distributed teams, it helps me keep track of what was said to whom, and what the next steps are. It is very simple and easy to use and comes with templates already made, including a COVID-19 communication plan.

Last but not least: LISTEN

Listen for what is being said and or not being said. Listen for tone, tension in the voice, and word choices. Listen for hope, optimism, confusion, distress and despair. You need to provide leadership and comfort. Your people are scared, as we live in a highly unpredictable time. Be the light, extend hope, generosity. Communicate hope and faith we know that “this too shall pass”, we just don’t know how long it will last.

I am curious as to how you are managing through a complex and rapidly changing world, and if you have any more ideas I can share with other clients. We have no idea how long this crisis will last, or how we will finish, but then again, do we ever know what’s ahead?

Be well, I am here for strategic hires, and to help you build strong teams. Happy to just be an ear to listen, or to cheer you up. Next week we will talk about what recruiters look for in top talent, and how you use this skill to improve your hiring too.

Executive Compensation

Executive Compensation

When recruiting C-Suite Executive Talent, compensation discussion often comes up early. After all, everyone’s time is valuable, best not to waste it on someone who is not going to accept an offer that is not in your range. Even more perplexing is how to navigate the new law in California that makes it illegal to ask how much do you currently earn.

How can you tell if someone has unreasonable compensation expectations? What components of compensation should you be considering? How can you tell if your opportunity is competitively compensated? You can use a compensation survey, and in general, they are about 8-18 months behind the market.

Base salary, bonus expectations, equity compensation, 401K match (or not), sometimes car allowance, health, life, directors and officers insurance are all components of compensation you want to consider. You want to keep your focus on what is most important to the candidate.

One thing to also consider is your internal compensation and equity. If your team has been with you for several years, it can be likely that they are compensated under market. Tough to swallow, but best to know your risk internally. Market rate is your target. Trying to secure great talent on the cheap is like trying to buy a home in Silicon Valley today at last year’s prices. You might get lucky, but it is going to take you longer, and the longer you chase, it just gets more out of reach.. Also, if your internal team is paid under market, you run the risk of losing them to your competitors.

Sometimes, like in startups, compensation relies solely on base and equity compensation, with limited health benefits. Others, will have base pay, bonus pay, equity, and health benefits. That equity is going to be more important than cash (or so you hope). You will need to articulate the value of the shares. All seasoned executives know that equity in one company is not the same as equity in another (for example Amazon vs Bank of America). You need to understand timelines to reach these equity valuations, too. People are often trading time for equity. Candidates will want to know the details of your vision and their role in helping you maximize value.

When it comes to cash, people are no longer willing to trade cash for equity. To grow your company, it takes people who already know how to do that. These people do not come cheap – there is a saying in the horse world – and it applies to executive level talent:

“If you want a horse that is fast and broke he won’t be cheap. If he’s cheap and fast, he won’t be broke. If he’s broke and cheap he won’t be fast.”

You cannot have everything – so you need to think about quality of hire and value that they will bring to your company. You also need to work on your internal equity and review annually – the last thing you want to worry about is losing someone because you are not paying them competitively.

People are your most valuable asset when it comes to getting where you need to go. To demonstrate that you value their contribution to your success, you need to pay them appropriately. If you don’t, someone else may come along and offer them higher compensation for the same work, and a stronger vision.

In summary, you need to be competitive on cash compensation, understand the value proposition of the stock as you reach each milestone, and be generous with your team. You cannot afford a slow, underprformer on your team – you need real athletes, performing at their peak to get you over the goal line. You need to be prepared to ante up, get in and play. Value your people fairly and they will be happy to build a successful company for you.

Good executive search professionals will have access to current compensation studies and will know how much a candidate is currently making before they are presented to you. Even in California, where there is a law that you cannot ask current compensation, a search person will know how to get this information. Search professionals will help you stay on top of current compensation for your teams.

My clients know what the compensation levels are for each candidate we present and what components of compensation are important to the candidate, too. For example, some candidates can flex on cash compensation in favor of more stock ( note, this is some, not all, and a minority). This information helps our clients make solid offers and good decisions about candidates, and how to hire and retain their best talent.

Remote Interviewing – Getting it Right

Remote Interviewing – Getting it Right

How we conduct business, this month, and perhaps how we behave going forward is changing – radically. This includes the in-person interview.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has everyone in lockdown mode: working from home, limiting or canceling non-essential business travel, conferences postponed or canceled. This may be a temporary limit to large gatherings, but I cannot help but think that this will shift all business travel habits indefinitely. Especially if we can find ways to work around it, and still get the same or similar results.

We are not ready for transporter technology, but we do have robust video conferencing capabilities. Nothing beats a face-to-face interview, it is where you can pick up subtle cues about the person. In-person interviews also allow you to get a “feel” for what the person is like to be with. For now, it looks like we will all need to proceed with a video interview – at least to help narrow down the field of contenders.

  • Here are a few tips on how to make the interview successful.
  • Make sure your video and audio work – test it out at least a day in advance. You need to be sure that the video and audio quality is up to your standards, and that you can both send and receive good quality communications.
  • Be sure to Give a good impression – Review your background – what will the other person see besides you? Uncovered windows often produce glare, and no one wants to see the junk pile you have in your office.
  • Elevate your laptop or computer – Desk level is rarely going to show your best angle, test out different heights.
  • Attire – Avoid wearing black or white – both make you appear washed out on video communications.
  • Beware of delays – just like mobile phones, there can be a delay in audio and visual transmission, and it can affect your reaction time and responses. Go for a pause, before speaking, and to convey that you are listening
  • Prepare – Just like an in-person interview, you want to prepare your questions and know what your goals are for the meeting.
  • Prepare for Awkward moments – if you feel awkward, or an uncomfortable moment arises, say something and address it. Now is the time to show your “humanness” and it will make people more relaxed, and authentic. You are trying to figure out who this person truly is, and you need them to be as relaxed as possible.
  • Relax and be yourself – You are looking for people who will fit into your organization, and who want to work with you – it is always best to be relaxed and authentic.

I often conduct video interviews for candidates I do not have a personal relationship with and that are located out of my current geography, and have no plans to travel in the near term. For all lead candidate’s this practice is always reinforced with an in-person interview, after all, I do need to know whom I am presenting to my clients.

I am curious to hear from you about the pros and cons of video interviews and how you are changing your business practices in our post-COVID-19 world. Please call me if I can help you identify key hires for your business.

Hiring Roadblocks:  Backdoor References

Hiring Roadblocks: Backdoor References

You are recruiting a Vice President for a key role. You have hired a search professional because you have run out of network. The senior recruiter has met your team, understands your company goals and objectives, and pulls together a targeted position description. You are now ready to start evaluating candidates.

The recruiter shares a few diverse candidates and reviews a list of prospects, people that they plan to reach out to with your approval. You decide you like the lead candidate, at least on paper, so you call a few of your buddies to check the person out, ahead of scheduling the first interview. One of your colleagues tells you that the candidate is very talented. Another colleague has a different point of view and says the candidate is stubborn (insubordinate, difficult, etc.) You decide that stubbornness is not good for you and your team, and you decide to tell the recruiter that you don’t like the candidate after all, and you have not had a phone call with the candidate.

Now what? Well, what you have done is eliminated someone on a couple of conflicting data points, and possibly a strong opinion, not on a full capabilities assessment. You have no idea how long ago this negative review was observed, or if the candidate has grown out of this bad habit. Nor do you know if this data point came from a time that they had some personal struggles – all you know is what your colleague told you.

If the candidate is currently working – there is more liability for both you and the candidate. You are poking around in that person’s past and character, the inquiry may unintentionally put them at risk of losing their current role. Another unintentional consequence is that this could potentially start a chink in the relationship of that candidate with their current leadership team.

Backdoor references provide a very limited, and often biased view of how a person performs. One very good reason to hire a search professional is not just because you cannot find people yourself, but because you want to hire right and you need to democratize the process. Especially now, when you need to ensure you include diverse candidates. You need someone to keep you accountable for hiring the right person, unbiased, and insure you make a great hire.

There are no perfect candidates – only perfectly flawed humans with specialized skills in your industry. What matters most depends on the function and performance.

What results did they get? How did this person communicate and build relationships? Hopefully, you hire someone who is not afraid to provide pushback, feedback, and divergent perspectives. The singularity of thought kills many good products and companies. This is what diversity is all about, and you want to create the very best return for your stakeholders, diversity at the top will help you accomplish this.

True, you don’t want to hire criminals or someone who creates HR issues. Personal quirks can be accommodated. You are hiring a human being, not a God, people are going to have faults and you need to know what they are before you hire them, so you can determine how to integrate this person into the team.

A good reference provides a balanced candidate view – both strengths and weaknesses. What the candidate can and cannot do, you need to know what growth path the candidate is on, and what skills and abilities they need to acquire to move up. You want the whole picture, and that includes understanding what motivates the candidate. The best way to manage and lead the candidate, and what they excel at, in what sort of environment. You need to know what drives this person, and what makes them want to leave. You want to be sure the candidate will excel in your company and will fit in with the team. This is most essential to your company’s success.

Every one of us can behave badly, it is your job, as CEO to make sure you are not the one pushing this person out the door. It is your job to channel and focus people on what you need them to accomplish.

In short, backdoor references are not the best way to find out everything you need to know about a candidate and how they will perform for you. This form of reference checking lacks depth and balance.

Hiring a search professional and partnering with them will get you a great hire. A search professional will also provide you a diverse slate of candidates, a balanced view of capabilities and development areas for each candidate, and prevents you from any discriminatory bias you may develop as a result of performing a back-door reference, resulting in losing a great hire, too.


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