Hiring Authorities – 10 C-Level Executive Hiring Tips

To my amazement, during my 40+ year retained search career I have uncovered a number of fraudulent C-Level executive job candidates. My motto has been: “To trust is good, not to trust is better”. My specialty has been the lower middle market private equity groups (owning portfolio companies under $100M in sales). Below are 10 useful hiring tips I’ve given my clients, reflecting my due-diligence hiring process.

  1. When interviewing C-Level executives who have worked for direct competitors, or in your related industry, have them sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Your legal counsel can prepare one that sends a confidentiality message but isn’t overly constrictive. This can help you avoid tire kickers who are purely nosy.
  2. Never interview a C-Level executive job applicant based only on their resume or a single mutually known referral. Ask your retained search consultant for key written reference checks in advance of any applicant interview. Otherwise, check the most recent key references provided by the job candidate beforehand. Why fly a candidate out to your company for an interview who won’t make the cut due to poor references.
  3. Always have an excuse ready for not pursuing any job applicant if their reference checks are weak, to protect the references from retribution. Communicate to all references in advance, that whether they say your candidate walks on the Charles River or snorts cocaine, it will not get back to the candidate under any circumstances. Cultivate honest references.
  4. Make certain your company interviewing policy states that the names and info of all job applicants remain highly confidential, even after their candidacy ends.
  5. Require that copies of all degrees, certifications, licenses, military discharges or honors, memberships (like MENSA), and noteworthy awards listed in their resume be provided by the applicants at their first interview. Resumes can include embellishments, outright lies, to even fraud. Don’t waste your time on four-flushers.
  6. After solid reference checks, favorable new employer / employee / company culture fit is critical. Effective subordinate mentoring skills are an art, not a science. Consequently, consider hiring a veteran, senior qualified C-Level candidate. Typically, they can land on their feet running.
  7. Ensure that the interviewers representing the hiring authority have a copy of the approved job description, and the job candidate’s resume, before they participate in an interview. Encourage them to review these documents beforehand.
  8. When hiring a proven CEO to spearhead company growth and upgrade the key management team, make them aware of the “sacred cow” direct report. I always ask that question before accepting or declining the search assignment.
  9. Before interviewing or hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), ensure that their references emphasize their honesty and integrity. Ask for examples. Also, verify the accuracy and timeliness of their financial reports and statements. A CFO’s personality may not facilitate a great interview, so checking their references in advance is invaluable. If necessary, have your company’s CPA firm Partner meet with a CFO candidate for a technical interview. In a skin-in-the-game CFO position, the CFO will typically report directly to a PEG Partner, and indirectly to the company CEO.
  10. When hiring a VP of sales, have them include CFOs they have worked with as references for sober feedback. How were they regarding budgeting, sales forecasting, and expense management? What about proven sales management experience and various sales compensation implementation models? Most VP sales candidates provide “fans” as references. Small companies generally don’t hire a true head of marketing, just a clerk.

As a C-Level executive employer, you want to hire proven performers and retain them. The more you know about each other, the better your mutual hiring decision. If you have a solid hiring track record, you probably have a good hiring system. However, if your company has constant turnover, take a hard look at your method for bringing C-Level employees on board. I’d bet you a lobster that your candidate reference checking methodology is insufficient. Remember, Ronald Reagan said: “Trust, but verify”.


Skip to toolbar