Seven ways to reduce the risk of a bad executive hire

The cost of getting a management hire wrong has been estimated by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation to be three times the annual salary.

Here, our executive recruiters share seven ways to avoid recruiting the wrong person…

1. Get the brief right

By this, we don’t just mean copying buzz words from a competitor’s vacancy. Recruitment is a golden opportunity to look at a role with fresh eyes, so it’s worth taking a step back and rethinking the skills, talents and values you need to help you move the company forward. Of course, once you’ve repositioned the role, you can spend a little time making your job description stand out from your competitors’.

Sarah Knight, one of our Co-Founders, comments, “We often find that companies come to us for a ‘like-for-like’ replacement, but they realise whilst talking it through with us that they need someone different…someone who is more dynamic or prepared to challenge the status quo. The best candidate may be one who has gained experience outside the client’s industry but has some insight or appreciation of their market. Harnessing their ‘new ways’ of thinking and doing things will allow their new employers to innovate and grow more quickly. 

2. Fish in the right pools

We don’t measure our success in terms of CVs received and we don’t think you should either. When it comes to applicants, the only thing that matters is the quality of your shortlist. All shortlisted candidates should have the right experience, skills and potential and show synergy with your culture and values.

It’s worth remembering that the best talent isn’t necessarily looking for work. We’ve spent time cultivating the connections and confidence needed to identify and approach appropriately skilled leaders. If you don’t have a team of experienced recruitment specialists to do this for you, you can consider your audience and target your message appropriately using a range of online, and potentially offline, channels.

The power of networks

100% of candidates placed by our lead executive recruiter in the last 12 months have been headhunted into their new roles.

3. Ensure the proposed salary is realistic

There’s nothing more frustrating than issuing a job offer, only to find out that the candidate feels that the salary you’re offering is inadequate. If this has happened to you before, you’re far from alone. According to a study in 2017, 27% of rejected offers were turned down for precisely this reason.

To avoid going back to square one at a frustratingly late stage, we recommend benchmarking salaries and benefits before beginning the recruitment process. If you’re working with an executive recruiter, ask them to share information and their opinions with you too.

It’s also worth having an open and honest conversation about a candidates’ expectations sooner rather than later. If you’re working with a consultant, they can do this for you and pass on details of the expected package and salary, or you can ensure that your job specification clearly indicates the salary available. It’s worth having some wiggle room for an exceptional candidate whose requirements may creep into the next salary bracket.

Reducing your risks

You may worry that an executive recruiter may bump up a salary to earn more commission. If that’s a consideration, look for a firm that charges a fixed fee, like us.

4. Vet applicants

Although lying on a CV can amount to a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006, many candidates still believe that a little CV creativity is a harmless exercise. Up to 50% of CVs are believed to contain fraudulent information, ranging from almost harmless white lies through to made-up qualifications, exaggerated experience and inflated salaries.

Doing due diligence on shortlisted candidates is therefore essential to avoid future embarrassment and disruption. We recommend investigating any gaps in career history, asking for evidence of recent qualifications or achievement and checking LinkedIn against CVs. A quick Google and social media search will give you a better feel for the person and their values. These simple steps can avoid wasting valuable time and protect your reputation. We also vet candidates via telephone and face-to-face interviews, so we fully understand them, their career and motivations, as well as recommending that clients seek references after making a job offer.   

5. Don’t rush into a decision

According to a survey of HR decision-makers by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, one in three bad hires were a result of the business needing to fill the position quickly. Rushing recruitment can be a temptation when other valuable members of the team are having to pick up the workload but hiring the wrong person will cause more disruption and damage in the long run.

We suggest evaluating your recruitment processes between recruitment campaigns as identifying potential efficiencies and improvements is far easier to do when you’re not faced with an urgent deadline. Sarah comments, “Your recruitment process is more than blocking out a day in your diary and deciding what questions to ask. If that’s news to you, you should probably give us a call! We can evaluate your current processes and help you make them more efficient or effective. Alternatively, asking an executive recruitment firm to find candidates will reduce the time-to-hire so your team can regain productivity as quickly as possible.”

6. Break the mould (Diversity & Inclusion)

Ensuring that you attract applications from women is just the tip of the diversity and inclusion iceberg. In an ideal world, your job specification and employer branding will attract a truly diverse group of candidates, including some who think and behave differently to you and existing members of your leadership team. 

Making D&I part of your recruitment process will help your business become more innovative, responsive and resilient. You can begin by eliminating any biased language from job specifications and ensuring that the recruitment process is standardised so all interviewees have the best chance of interviewing well. 

Taking an objective view

“We’ll often use psychometrics to dig a bit deeper with a candidate and explore team/company fit. We look at diversity in terms of drivers, personality, strengths, weaknesses and attributes within the wider team. This allows us to understand how that individual would impact on team performance and ensure that biased decision making, or decisions based on ‘gut feeling’, are a thing of the past.”
Sarah Knight, Co-Founder of Tribus

7. Use interviews for their full potential

An interview is so much more than an opportunity to see how someone answers questions. You can include tasks to test how well they can put their knowledge into practice under pressure or to evaluate their communication skills. Interviews also allow you to see what leadership skills candidates demonstrate, such as curiosity, humility, adaptability and empathy.

Evaluating candidates against a range of skills will help you fight bias and ensure that you make the right decision.

Sarah comments, “Doublecheck that members of your interview panel understand the importance of their role and are prepared to answer searching questions about the business and its values. Interviews are a two-way process. Candidates are unlikely to only be applying for one job, so you need your interviewers to represent your business in its best light, without making false promises. Making your role sound attractive is especially important if you’re based in the South West, where there are more vacancies than people.”


Finding more efficient ways to get the right person in the right job at the right time will:

  • Reduce recruitment and training costs
  • Improve productivity
  • Reduce stress
  • Minimise disruption and distraction
  • Encourage employees to trust your decision making
  • Free up the interview panel to concentrate on their core tasks
  • Improve reputation/grow employer brand
  • Help retain customer/supplier relationships

Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can improve your chances of making a good hire, not just the seven we’ve listed above.

If you’d like to find out more, we’d welcome having a confidential chat.  Simply contact us to arrange a convenient time.

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