How C-Level Executive Search Issues Impact Talent Acquisition Firms

For many businesses, finding C-suite executives to fill critical roles is incredibly difficult. They often lack the tools, experience, and resources to thoroughly vet candidates—leading to bad fit hires that bring more problems into the organization than they solve. That’s why organizations turn to talent acquisition firms that offer C-level executive search services.

As an executive search specialist, issues in the search process can significantly impact your firm. How so? What are some red flags to avoid in executive candidates that you send to clients? Most importantly, how can you identify these poor fits quickly and efficiently to improve the overall quality of the candidates that you do recommend to your clients?

How Do Issues in the C-Level Executive Search Process Impact Your Firm?

So, what’s the cost of a bad hire when it’s occurring in a client business’s C-suite and not your firm? While the client will often see impacts such as reduced productivity, increased turnover, and even legal fees spent on fighting hostile work environment suits caused by C-suite misconduct, these aren’t directly impacting your firm.

In many cases, offering a poor-fit C-suite candidate doesn’t reach that phase because the engagement doesn’t yield a hire. In fact, 40% of retained search engagements do not yield a hire. These candidates, after being reviewed by the client organization, are instead found wanting and are not added to their C-suite.

The biggest impacts for an executive search firm are a loss of reputation and potentially losing clients. If clients aren’t getting the right candidates from a firm—either rejecting them outright or needing to quickly fire and replace them before they do further damage—the relationship between the search firm and the client erodes and the firm may lose that client.

If issues in the executive search process persist, the firm can garner a negative reputation that impairs its ability to attract more business in the future.

3 Issues in the Executive Search Process for Search Firms

Some of the issues in the executive search process that can lead to client attrition and other issues include:

  • Poor Fit Candidates Making It Through the Initial Screening Process. When companies contract with an executive search firm, the expectation is that any candidates put forward by the firm will meet all of the client’s skills and culture fit criteria. Poor-fit candidates making it to the final selection by the client can cause frustration and, eventually, the dissolution of the business relationship. Some organizations may even try to sue the talent acquisition partner to recoup fees if a candidate has to be terminated shortly after being onboarded.
  • Not Finding Enough Candidates with the Appropriate Skills. While the quantities involved for a single executive search client are much more limited than general talent acquisition, executive search firms still need a healthy pipeline of C-suite candidates. This way, they can fill short-notice needs of priority clients quickly. However, being able to match an appropriate executive candidate with the right skills to the needs of each client is often easier said than done. Failing to do so can make the organization appeal unreliable in clients’ eyes, impacting client retention and satisfaction. 
  • Candidates Violating Workplace Conduct Rules. The worst-case scenario is when an executive candidate makes it through the selection process and actually joins the client organization, then engages in gross workplace misconduct. Whether it’s fraud, harassment,  discrimination, or sexual misconduct, such misconduct can have a severe negative effect on the client organization. The organization will then have to reassess their C-suite recruitment process—and may even try to demand compensation for damages done by a executive provided by the search firm.

These are just a small subset of the potential issues in C-suite talent acquisition that can impact companies engaging in executive search.

5 Red Flags to Avoid in Executive Search

Odds are that, as an executive search specialist, you already have a list of “red flags” you can use to filter out poor-fit executive candidates who would not work well for your clients. For example, you might have red flag items such as:

  • Lack of Solid References. Ideally, a C-suite candidate should have strong references guaranteeing their attitude and skills. A lack of references or only having lukewarm references is a fairly common “red flag” item since it indicates they haven’t earned a good reputation with former coworkers.
  • Poor Communication Skills. Great leaders should have great communication skills. They need to be prompt, even proactive, in communications and “command the room” when they’re speaking. If a candidate is slow to communicate and isn’t an impressive speaker, then they may not be a good fit for any leadership role.
  • Inability to Answer Basic Questions Related to Their Role. While a leader doesn’t necessarily have to perfectly understand the minutiae of the work their teams complete, they should at least have a basic understanding of that work so they can speak to their role in helping their teams achieve their goals. Otherwise, they may struggle to establish realistic goals or respond effectively to employee requests for additional resources.
  • Lack of Records to Support Listed Skills. If an executive candidate claims a specific set of skills, but doesn’t have documentation to endorse those skills (certificates of completed training programs, college diplomas, endorsements by others, etc.), that is an immediate red flag.
  • Frequent Job Changes. In a fast-paced business world, it’s not uncommon for a candidate, even one in the C-suite, to have worked with a large number of organizations. However, changing roles too frequently can be an indication of an issue with the candidate. For example, do they simply lack staying power? Are they leaving voluntarily or are they being forced out? Or, are they so highly sought after that they’re constantly being headhunted by other organizations and making the switch readily as better or more interesting offers come in? Building a strong C-suite team often requires longevity and having to fill and refill the role can be detrimental.
  • History of Misconduct. Screening for misconduct has become increasingly popular. C-suite candidates should be free from problematic behaviors like harassment and hate speech. The impact of this behavior on the company culture and brand is significant. Using a candidate screening tool for misconduct is a must early on in the process. 

While the above “red flags” are common to executive search, their presence or absence doesn’t tell the whole story about any candidate. There are other red flags to watch out for that aren’t always found in a simple reference and job history examination.

To find these red flags, you’ll need to conduct a more intensive review of a candidate’s online and social media profiles.

How Using Social Media Screening Can Improve C-Level Search for Your Clients

Not every red flag for a poor-fit executive candidate is clear from a first review of their resume or their references. Sometimes, a candidate does an excellent job of presenting themselves well in person—giving all of the right answers to interview questions and appearing the part of the ideal candidate—while suppressing their actual attitudes.

One way to uncover hidden red flags is by using online and social media screening solutions to investigate C-suite candidates before presenting them to your clients. Many use the infamous “anonymity of the internet” to air out their actual beliefs that they try to keep hidden in a professional setting, but might influence their behaviors.

For example, some of the red flags that a social media background check can unveil include:

  • Toxic/Discriminatory Attitudes. A rapid scan of a candidate’s social media posts can often reveal potentially discriminatory biases they may hold or toxic behaviors they may exhibit once they feel “comfortable” in a new workplace environment.
  • Posting of Salacious Content. What candidates put into their social media profiles often reflects their core interests. If a candidate for an executive position is posting or linking to graphic content in their social media profiles, that could be an indicator of inappropriate behaviors and attitudes that will clash with a client’s professional image or corporate values.
  • Values Not Aligned with the Client Organization. Here’s a “red flag” you may need to consider on a case-by-case basis for your clients. Different client organizations will have different value priorities. Social media screening can help you uncover candidates who closely align with the values of your clients so you aren’t putting someone who wouldn’t mesh culturally forward to them. This helps both your executive candidates and your clients find success in the executive search process.

These are just a handful of potential issues that a quick social media screening can uncover. The sooner you can find these “red flags” and use them to refine your executive candidate recommendations for your clients, the better.

Need help screening candidates in the C-suite? Reach out to Fama and request a demo! Our comprehensive screening solution equips executive search firms with the information they need to make reliable, data-driven assessments of their candidates for clients.