Sealing the Deal

by Laura Gemme

What do you do when your organization handles an executive search internally, hires someone you're excited about, and then the the last minute, the candidate walks away to accept another position, just as you've made a proud announcement about the newest member of your executive team (at worst, your new Executive Director)?

That's just what happened to several of our clients recently. They came to us in a rush to find someone new, and were clearly frustrated by their experience. So what can you do, when you're ready to hire, to have confidence your new executive will actually stay on board? Here are some "behind-the-scenes" strategies we use to ensure a successful take-off with your new executive.

  • Listen carefully to what each candidate says, watch their reactions and body language. When you discuss salary and benefits, does the candidate seem pleased, or is s/he accepting a package that they view as a compromise? Make sure you're all on the same page and that your new hire is truly pleased with the final agreement.
  • Ask about other opportunities the candidate is considering. Without asking for details, find out if the candidate is seriously considering other positions. Perhaps they haven't heard back about a position they are very excited about, so they accept yours, and then the other offer comes through. Having a hint about this beforehand can be helpful. You may need to sweeten the deal, or tout opportunities for career advancement or prestige, or use some creative thinking to capture their full attention in a way that inspires more excitement about your opportunity.
  • Pay attention to clues in how the candidate responds to your organization's challenges. Every organization, especially during an executive transition, has challenges and obstacles. Perhaps the organization has some board members who don't agree about certain recent decisions, or the staff isn't too hip about changes that are taking place. Make sure, in your discussions, that you pay close attention to how your new candidate responds to those challenges. Ask questions about how s/he would handle specific situations. And listen to your instincts. Many of our clients, after their new hire backed out, say it didn't completely surprise them. They can often guess why the candidate changed their decision at the last minute.
  • Get it in writing...seal the deal. The most important thing you can do is to insist that your new hire sign a contract for employment, and include a specific start date. Of course s/he may still walk away to pursue another opportunity, but chances are in your favor. Signing an employment agreement is a clear indication that your new hire is serious about working with your organization.

Most search firms offer some sort of placement guarantee, so they put in extra effort to ensure a solid hire each time. Your organization has a great deal to lose if it loses steam during the hiring process. So tip the scales in your favor when hiring your next new executive...listen carefully to your candidates (and your own instincts!), ask pertinent questions, and then seal the deal...before you announce your newest team member.

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