“You need to go beyond puppies and rainbows”. That’s the advice this week from a search firm expert. I’m part of the search committee for the new president of a non-profit organization where I am a board member. The search expert was telling us to go deeper in our questioning. Get past the fluff and canned responses. He said it’s ok to make candidates uncomfortable.
I’ve done a lot of hiring in my management career for direct reports. And I’ve been on search committees for executive positions. I’ve also been on the other side of the search process being interviewed for CIO positions.
You review resumes, you listen to the search firm’s summary comments on each candidate, and then you finally meet the candidates in the first round of interviews. It’s a process. And you only have an hour or so to get to know each person.
What you see on paper are the qualifications. In the interview you get to know the person. I said in one of my first blog posts, hiring the right people is one of the most important decisions managers make. For executive positions, the process is more rigorous with more people involved. After all there is much more at stake when you are choosing one of the top executives.
You are all working off the same position description and the organization’s mission and strategy. Yet search committee members come to the process with different perspectives. As a result, they may be looking for different attributes in the candidates. They need to be open to executives taking the organization in new directions and not just finding someone like the outgoing leader.
John Glaser, the Partners HealthCare CIO told me when I was interviewing for the Brigham and Women’s Hospital CIO position,”It’s not just what you say but how you say it.” John made it clear that personality was critical. No pressure. Another way of saying it — “Is there the right chemistry?” If the candidate gets to the interview stage, it’s assumed they have the knowledge, experience and skills to do the job. So then it’s about fit. Is this someone people can work with?
I met over 20 people during the Brigham and Women’s search process, so there were plenty of people to weigh in on whether I was the right candidate. And as the candidate I was also able to assess if they were an organization and group of people that I wanted to work with. I did. I was there for almost 13 years and loved the leadership team I worked with.
When I advise my colleagues in the search process, I remind them that it’s a two-way street. The organization is evaluating them and they are evaluating the organization and the people they’d be working with. I encourage them to be sure they know what they are looking for. If it’s not the right organization or opportunity, say so and withdraw; don’t waste anyone’s time. If there are concerns but you want to know more, keep going until all your questions and concerns are answered.
A job change is a big decision, especially at executive levels and when it means relocating your family. It’s fair to say that both sides need to go deep, go beyond puppies and rainbows.