Companies are currently in an unprecedented place when it comes to employment. At the low end, entry-level workers are spoiled for choice, and a push for increased wages and benefits makes it hard to fill the ranks if you can’t afford it. Conversely, senior-level employees have their pick of career options at the upper levels. Recruiters struggle to attract these valuable, experienced individuals, and it’s no longer just a matter of the number of zeroes on the end of the paycheck.
Recruiting senior-level employees is still possible, but you’ll need to know how to do it properly. Here’s the best guidance we have to offer.
Know the Role Inside and Out
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to hiring for a senior-level position is not knowing precisely what you need accomplished and who you need to accomplish it.
What does that mean?
It’s two facets of one problem. On the one hand, you need to know the role. That means understanding exactly what the job duties will be for the individual you hire. Will they be a C-level or director who makes company-guiding decisions using their industry experience and network connections to make decisions? Will they be in senior management, as the person to whom all issues are escalated and who makes the final determination on any problem that crosses their desk? Do they approve budgets, direct spending, and push for initiatives that change the fundamental way your company operates?
Before you can even begin looking for a candidate, you need to know the role, which means defining every aspect of the role as closely as possible.
The biggest single problem with hiring senior-level employees is that they are often very specialized in their career and experience. They’re good at what they do, but they may struggle if you hire them to do something outside of their wheelhouse. Sure, some may adapt and succeed, but many more will leave for another opportunity more aligned with their skills, which leaves you back where you started.
“One of the biggest blockers to hiring senior-level employees is not a lack of qualified applicants, but rather a misalignment between what a recruiter is looking for and what candidates include on their resumes. Before writing the job description, think about what your company is trying to solve by filling this position. Fully understand the needs and qualifications for the role prior to releasing the description, and then write it accordingly.” – Recruitment Juice.
Consider creating a comprehensive job profile with the relevant skills, experience, and work history you need, which you can then use to create your marketing and job posting to find the right kinds of candidates.
Aim for Passive Candidates
The higher you go up the organization chart, the less likely the employees there will ever be actively looking for work. Passive recruitment works fine for lower-level and even some mid-level roles, but senior-level employees are near-universally employed and more or less happy where they are. After all, they have their pick of companies to work for when they want to move on.
“A study by Experteer Switzerland shows that 97% of senior candidates in a company want to be ‘found’ or ‘approached’ by headhunters for relevant vacancies.” – Experteer.
Senior-level employees are almost always passive candidates. That means once you know the role you’re looking to fill, you need to figure out exactly what skills, experiences, past roles, certifications, and qualifications you need from the person you want to fill it.
Then, critically, you need to take this narrow profile of a theoretical individual and look for real people who match it.
You can do this in many ways. You can identify comparable roles in other organizations and look for the employees in those roles. You can pick the role where an experienced individual may be promoted into the role you’re filling and look at that one-step-down roster. You can take to LinkedIn and find people with the skills and expertise you’re seeking.
Once you find a potential candidate, you need to approach them with an offer. Be discrete! While it’s not illegal, many companies frown upon the idea of poaching employees and may be combative if you try. Moreover, a candidate may be hesitant to accept your offer if you make it too publicly, fearing reprisal if they don’t like working for you. Consider restricting your messaging to personal email accounts and private social media, and avoid sending messages to company email addresses or calling on company phones.
Another thing you might consider is looking for candidates who have a proven track record of success. Senior-level employees often make a name for themselves, whether it’s by spearheading development, pushing for social change, or guiding a company to success in troubled times. Proven success can be just as important as skills and experience on paper.
Make a Compelling, Customized Offer
A compelling offer for a senior-level employee needs to have three things:
- A powerful reason why they should leave their current company to work for you.
- A plain and frank discussion of the job’s duties and benefits.
- Room for negotiation.
When you approach a potential senior-level hire, you need to recognize that your offer, should they accept, has the potential to uproot their life and career trajectory. Unless they are broadly dissatisfied with their current position, they will likely be hesitant to make such a leap.
What can you provide to make a compelling case for your role?
Learn what makes your candidate tick. Different employees are driven by different motivators. At the upper levels, money is only occasionally a driving factor. More often, these individuals want connections, power, benefits, the opportunity to have a tangible impact on the world around them, or the satisfaction of leading a high-performance team.
Explain the advantage of working for you over their current workplace. You mustn’t actively trash talk their current employer. You want to be respectful of their current situation and possibly even avoid making direct reference to it. Instead, know what their current employer offers to the best of your ability, and discuss how you offer something better. Align this with the primary interests of the candidate for the most significant impact.
Start with a good pay and benefits package. Pay and benefits are the most subject to negotiation, but you need to start at a good place that offers room for that negotiation. If your starting offer is laughably low, your candidate will know that you can’t offer the growth they want and will turn you down.
Pay particular attention to benefits. Often, senior-level employees already make enough money to satisfy their needs. You want to be able to offer benefits that are of particular interest to them, such as lengthy parental leave, unlimited PTO, excellent healthcare, or flexible working arrangements.
Discuss opportunities for personal development. Remember that your senior-level candidates will be just as in-demand working for you as they are working for their current company, possibly even more so. You want to be able to offer avenues for personal growth that are difficult to match, so there’s a tangible reason for them to stick with you. These can range from opportunities to network with industry leaders, to working on the cutting edge of your industry, to avenues to develop their skills even further.
Offer a compelling vision of their future with your company. “Where do you see yourself in five years” isn’t just an interview question for entry-level workers. It’s an essential aspect of hooking senior-level employees.
The key is remembering that senior-level employees have concerns unique to their station. They may be less concerned with short-term benefits and more with their retirement accounts, stock benefits, and a more permanent living situation. They may have 10-20 years of career ahead of them rather than 30-40. They may be more concerned with raising families than seeing the game on the weekend. Stability is often a valued commodity.
And, of course, everything above is subject to personalization and negotiation. Some senior-level employees will be more interested in certain benefits or perks of a career than others. Some may be concerned with making the most money possible. Customization is the number one consideration for your offer.
Consider (But Don’t Rely On) Employee Referrals
A good source of passive candidates can be referrals from your existing employees. However, this is a little different for senior leadership than for the rank and file. In particular, you may be talking to employees about their previous bosses or to C-levels about their former direct reports.
Unfortunately, relying on referrals isn’t viable in senior-level positions. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the big draw of a referred employee is a social connection, and that’s generally less important for senior-level employees. The second is that you run the risk of nepotism and similar adverse hiring when you rely on personal connections, which can leave you with sub-par hires that are difficult to remove due to their connections.
Pay Attention to Culture
Company culture is essential to monitor and improve for long-term business success. With low-level employees, you can hire people who conform to your existing company culture. With senior-level employees, however, you are hiring the people who guide and develop company culture.
This means that, in addition to skills and experience, you need to pick candidates who have the cultural values you want in your organization. That can mean people who fit with the culture you have established, but it can also mean people who bring new values to the table and who can show what those values mean. You may be hiring these individuals not just for their business acumen, but for their place as a beacon of a particular kind of company culture.
It is likewise crucial that you don’t pick someone whose cultural values clash too much with your organization. Even if you’re trying to move your company in their direction, it will be resisted if the change is too significant.
Be Persistent but Patient
It takes time to engage with a senior-level candidate and convince them to make the leap to your organization. They may not respond immediately, and if they do, they may not have a positive initial impression. It’s your job to keep at it, engage with them, and answer their concerns.
Consider Looking Inward
Senior-level roles are difficult to fill. So, why not try to fill them with people you already know all about?
Internal promotions can be an excellent way to reward the skills and loyalty of existing employees. These individuals already have social connections and a solid awareness of their coworkers they can leverage to build and reorganize teams under their purview. They also know your business and your systems and can use their newfound power to make beneficial adjustments that outsiders might not recognize.
You can also promote up the chain this way. By promoting a senior manager to a director, you can then promote a junior manager to senior manager and a team leader to junior manager. Then, you’re left with the much easier-to-fill role of team leader, and can either promote a standard employee or hire an external team lead.
The one area of caution here is that, depending on your company and industry, there may be regulations about the requirement to post a job publicly when it opens. You may not be able to simply promote someone without advertising the role. This is most common amongst government agencies and contractors but may also be relevant elsewhere.
Regardless, looking inward may be just as viable a solution as looking outward.
Once you have a candidate in mind, engaging with them and negotiating what they truly want out of their role is key to a successful hire. Customization in every part of the process is the key to success. There’s no template process, no boilerplate offer, and no standard package that will fit the bill.
Do you have any questions or concerns about recruiting senior-level employees? If so, please be sure to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! We’d be more than happy to provide the guidance needed for a successful recruitment!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.