Hiring outside executives–top five red flags to consider

By: Michael Ellenhorn

We are living in challenging times, both personally and in our business lives. With the onset of COVID-19, businesses have done their best to adapt to today’s “new normal,” including social distancing, remote working and stay-at-home orders. Almost every facet of how we conduct business has changed, and that includes the hiring process. With in-person interviews replaced by virtual meetings on cloud-based platforms, hiring managers are expected to make senior- and executive-level hiring decisions without ever meeting the candidate face to face. That can and should be a concern.

Bringing in new senior and executive-level employees can be an opportunity for increased competitiveness, significant growth and great success. But the wrong hire can be costly. Consider that 46% of all new hires fail within 18 months, and that among leaders hired from outside a company, nearly 50% fail in that same time frame.

Without the “feel” of an in-person interview, examining objective data more closely becomes even more important. So, what can you do to ensure a successful senior or executive hire? It all begins long before you meet a candidate.

Every senior candidate comes with their “file” consisting of a resume, references, a LinkedIn profile, an application, and perhaps educational or military records. Within these documents lie the tools to proper candidate evaluation, but even experienced hiring managers need to know where to look.

Here are the top five red flags every hiring manager should consider before investing the time to meet with a candidate.

1. Inconsistencies in employment history

The first factor to consider in evaluating a candidate is their career history. Has the candidate job hopped over the past few years, or have they remained steadily employed at the same company? Are there gaps in the candidate’s employment history that go beyond expected career progression? Have they moved cities frequently over the past few years? Have they told you that they are currently employed, or have they already left their last employer?

Take the time to fully examine the candidate’s full suite of documents. Are they all consistent? Do they tell the same story? By going beyond a candidate’s resume, you will find a wealth of useful information that will increase the probability of finding any troubling inconsistencies. Consider a candidate who listed seven years with a company on their resume, but their LinkedIn profile lists only five. Is this a purposeful misrepresentation or an honest mistake? Examine the candidate’s file carefully long before they are interviewed. It could save you time, money and heartache.

2. A candidate in a rush

There are countless reasons a candidate might be looking to make a move: greater responsibility, better income, moving cities, etc. It can be difficult to spot candidates in a rush, but some telltale signs include factual or grammatical errors in their communication, a desire to speed along the interview process, overly persistent check-ins, or an insistence that they are juggling multiple offers and may not be available much longer.

Any time a candidate seems to be in a rush to leave their current place of employment, that’s a red flag that deserves further and careful examination.

3. Decreased compensation or responsibility

Most candidates will show an upward trajectory in both responsibility and compensation. If a candidate’s career history shows a significant reduction in either, this is a red flag. It may be that the perceived decrease in responsibility came as the result of a move from a small company to a much larger one. Decreased compensation may have been the result of a candidate’s partial leave of absence, to serve as a caregiver or fulfill some other personal obligation. But any time a candidate’s employment history shows a dip in either compensation or responsibility, further investigation is warranted before beginning the interview process.

4. References that tell a different story

References can be one of the greatest tools in a hiring manager’s arsenal. Too often, references are ignored until after an offer decision has been made. When you’re looking at references, pay close attention to when and how they are provided, who is listed and what those references actually say.

Here are a few reference-related red flags that can appear throughout the hiring process:

  • The candidate doesn’t offer references when requested.
  • The references are offered as names only.
  • The list includes nonprofessional references.
  • The references are unrelated to a current role or industry.
  • References are offered with instructions not to contact.

Truly productive referencing is a learned skill and speaking, with appropriate references early in the hiring process (when possible) can reveal a lot about the candidate and save the hiring manager a great deal of time and money.

5. A candidate who is too good to be true

Hiring companies should be attuned to candidates who seem too good to be true. If a candidate appears overly qualified for the position, they may be misrepresenting themselves. If their education and other credentials appear excessive for the role, or inconsistent with where they are in their career, that’s a red flag. If their claimed client list or professional accomplishments seem unlikely, they probably are. If you have a candidate who seems too good to be true, do more pre-interview research. An overqualified candidate can be a red flag, depending on the role.

The current business environment has made cash even more valuable for companies, so hiring mistakes can be especially costly. In a virtual business environment, much of that “feel” a hiring manager gets from an in-person interview is lost, so more thorough and objective candidate vetting is required. A solid, in-depth pre-interview process is key to finding the best fit for your company and preserving your resources (time and money) for the many other challenges at hand now and in the years to come.

Michael Ellenhorn is Entrepreneurial leader, lawyer with a global mindset and over 20 years of success building & strengthening professional services businesses.

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