Don’t Interview Another Leadership Candidate Until You Read This

by | Executive Search, Validate a Key Hire

The process of interviewing leadership candidates can be like a ship that runs aground more often than you’d think. Surely, every successful startup must do it, but hiring leaders can be fraught with peril when we lose sight of our guiding light – our values and business objectives.

I recently wrote about what happened when a board member and CEO candidate took their existing relationship for granted. Meaningful communication ground to a halt and the deal fell apart.

In another case, a CEO candidate (represented by a recruiter) expressed interest in the position, said and did all the right things, received an offer of employment, sat on it for a day, then declined the offer saying he didn’t want to relocate.


The company had invested four months with this one, single candidate. Five executives, two board members and the CEO were involved in the hiring process. There also was a house-hunting trip and $100K in recruiting costs.

When the candidate declined the offer, the team was shocked, deeply disappointed, and empty-handed.

Looky-Loos and Open Houses

A Looky-Loo is someone who seems interested in making a purchase, but whose actual intention is to browse. We often hear this term mentioned in the context of selling a house, when prospective buyers appear, look around, take a sell-sheet and disappear without a trace. Curiosity – rather than a pre-approval letter – is driving the visit.

It’s not a scenario most people expect when they’re hiring a C-level executive but it does happen and it is much more expensive and time-consuming than showing someone around your home for 20 minutes.

This CEO candidate eventually admitted he went through the process to “see what might come of it.” He felt good about receiving an offer, but he never was serious about relocating. The company was less than thrilled with the fact that this seemed like an entirely preventable situation.

Obviously, the recruiter didn’t know the candidate very well. There may have been a few phone conversations, perhaps a reference was checked, but I doubt there were multiple honest, intimate conversations – about the candidate’s motivators, his personal or family situation, his aspirations and work-style – that would allow the recruiter to credibly represent him to the company.

Hiring leaders can be fraught with peril when we lose sight of our values and business objectives.

When candidates and companies enter into a “no strings attached” relationship – in which the complete backstory on the company and the candidate is not shared – loyalty is missing, and a disappointing outcome is common.

Thinking again of the home buying / selling analogy, if you’re a buyer, you wouldn’t want your agent to send you a list of 10 “Open Houses” and tell you to check them out. You’d want her to present you with what she believed was “the” house because she knew your personal, family and financial situation intimately.

And, if you’re the seller and your real estate agent schedules several “Open Houses,” you’ll spend hours cleaning, staging and preparing your house – repeatedly – so that anybody can walk through and nose around in your life. Wouldn’t you rather have an agent who scheduled a visit with targeted buyers whom he knew were specifically interested in buying your house?

Attention to Detail

In other words, you need someone who has done their homework.

As your company’s leader, you should have confidence that you – and your chosen candidate – have a clear picture and representation for guidance and insight. As an executive recruiter, I get to this point of meaningful knowledge with client and candidate only by committing the time needed to have honest, intimate conversations in which both parties’ deepest desires are brought to the surface. The outcome is a payoff that benefits everyone.

If rapport, trust, and respect are embedded as part of the hiring approach, authentic, honest conversations can happen. Many times, when people are given this opportunity, they make themselves vulnerable and disclose all that is on their hearts and minds. There is gold here, and it’s valuable.

In our society, we are conditioned to put our best foot forward, get an offer, and make a decision. But how many times do candidates think to themselves, “I’ll check it out and see where it leads?” How many times do companies decide to interview only candidates from their existing networks in an attempt to hurry a process that should be designed to uncover the right candidates, not just those who are available or looking?

Our culture programs us to stay on the surface, get to the point quickly and communicate on the fly. But, a “tire kicking” approach lacks clarity, purpose, and sincerity of action. We weren’t made to bottom-line all conversations and have narrow discussions that don’t bring people together. If we approach hiring this way, we will always miss it with people.

CEOs who pay attention to the realities of human behaviors, who are fully engaged when hiring a key leader, and commit to an approach that compliments their values and business objectives, are the ones who hire the right leaders, build the best teams, deliver the most substantial results, and experience fewer disappointments.

In life and in recruiting, it’s so important to uphold the integrity of others through respect, rapport, and good listening. Pearls of wisdom and a golden outcome lie within reach.