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The HR Professional's Guide to Executive Search Part 2


Last week we published the first part in our HR Professionals Guide to Executive Search, where we covered planning a recruitment strategy, writing the job spec, legal considerations and establishing a recruitment timeline. In part 2, we’ll pick up from the point of shortlisting the best candidates, and talk you through the shortlisting, interviewing and scoring stages.

The first step of shortlisting - elimination

Scanning CVs and application letters is often enough to spot the applicants who definitely are not suitable. When recruiting for an executive role, you can reasonably expect certain standards to be met.

Consider eliminating at the first stage any applicant that:

  • Commits basic errors: Look out for spelling errors and poor grammar. Yes, not everyone is blessed with a sophisticated command of the written word, but those that aren’t could be reasonably expected to double-check their application or have someone do it for them if writing isn’t their gift.
  • Hasn’t read the job advert carefully: If they’ve got the job title or the name of the organisation wrong, that’s often enough for most hiring managers to reject an application.
  • Doesn’t have the right qualifications: This is a very simple process. But it’s important to stick to your brief and not get distracted by impressive professional achievements or a dazzling portfolio. Doesn’t have the right experience: This one is slightly harder to judge. Experience is transferable. So it’s essential to be crystal clear in the job spec about what experience you require. Always request candidates provide specific examples of experience.
  • Implausible claims on their CV or application: For example, an applicant claiming to have 25-years’ professional experience in online video streaming platforms is either bending the truth, or they’ve made a typo. Either can be grounds for elimination.


The second phase of shortlisting - Competency and criteria matching

This part of the shortlisting process relies heavily on having strong selection criteria and a good ability to interpret a CV.

Collect all non-rejected applications. If any applications stood out as particularly good when you scanned them, feel free to push them to the front of the pile.

Create an index of all essential and preferable attributes listed on your job advert. It’s best to do this in a spreadsheet for ease of organisation. Create a column for applicant names, a column for ‘essential’ criteria and a column for ‘desirable’ criteria, then simply work your way through it.

Pro-tip: Give extra weight to candidates who include concrete examples of outcomes on their CV. They should be able to confidently demonstrate how their work contributed to the company’s success.

Once you’ve completed the matching process, you’ll be able to see at a glance which candidates have the most matches to the criteria you set out. If possible, use a spreadsheet formula to calculate the final score of each candidate. The formula should add extra weight to ‘essential’ and less weight to ‘desirable’.

At this stage, you’ll probably find that a lot of candidates meet all of the essential and desirable criteria. Don’t worry, this process isn’t meant to reveal the ideal candidate, just the best matches.

You should be aiming to get the pool of applicants down to between ten and 15 maximum. Any more than this and your interview process will be difficult.


The third phase of shortlisting - Prioritising

You’ll now be able to prioritise potentially suitable candidates into some sort of order. Consider any lateral skills they may have that weren’t specified on the application but which could add a new dimension to the role.

If you feel it’s appropriate, review any social media or web presence the candidate has supplied, for example a blog or LinkedIn profile.

Pro-tip: As tempting as it may be, don’t go hunting for candidates on social media. If they’ve not included that information voluntarily, don’t seek it out. Not only is it counterproductive (the candidate may use Twitter solely for personal updates, for example), you may inadvertently breach equality best practices.

If a candidate hasn’t put their age on the application, but you discover it yourself, the candidate has a good discrimination claim should they not be selected.



The interview process is where we separate the wheat from the chaff. At this stage of the recruitment process, we are right to assume that all candidates could do the job adequately. Now it’s time to find the ideal person.



How many interviews?

Again, this depends on the role, organisation and candidate. For senior roles, it’s common to have two or more interviews; the first is typically used to understand more about the candidate’s specific skills and work history and to assess whether they’d be a good cultural fit.

Second interviews often take the form of a presentation and then an informal chat. If you are planning on holding a second round of interviews, it’s imperative to establish pass/fail criteria for the first interview. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if a mediocre candidate is invited for a second interview and presentation by default.




This is best done individually, by each member of the hiring panel. Once everyone has completed their assessments, take an average of all scores. It’s very important at this stage to remove emotion from the process. You’ll have built rapport with different candidates, but don’t allow your emotions to trick you into awarding higher scores based on that.


Not all criteria are equal. Be sure of how valuable each criteria are and adjust their weighting accordingly. Also, consider how easy it will be to train certain candidates in criteria where they don’t quite make the grade and again, factor that into the scoring.

A very simple way of criteria weighting is to vary the maximum scores that can be hit. For absolute priorities, use a maximum of twenty, for the ‘nice-to-haves’, use a maximum of five. This way you can simply add up the scores at the end before making a decision.


A note on competency Vs Skill

This is often a source of confusion for hiring panels. The confusion is increased when the terms are used interchangeably when they refer to different things. The easiest way to differentiate between these two terms is this; skills are what someone can do and competencies are the behaviours they perform to do it.

For example, two people may be able to build a website. Person A may do it by cobbling together buggy code without considering design, user experience and commercial outcomes. Person B may do it by auditing commercial requirements, collaborating with the design team before writing a line of code and consulting with sales to determine desired customer experience outcomes.

Discovering how a candidate may perform a task or achieve an outcome is just as important as discovering what skills they have.

Cultural Fit

It’s up to you how much importance you place on cultural fit. For some companies it’s essential as it feeds into every element of the business and can be crucial to performance and retention. When recruiting for a senior role, there’s a good chance that poor cultural fit won’t just affect the candidate, it could impact on your wider team.

In most cases a very good match who’d fit in well is better than a perfect match who’d struggle to thrive in your corporate environment. Once your scoring is complete, you’ll have a much better idea of anyone who may struggle to fit in.



Finding the right people can mean the difference between success and failure for your business - especially at the executive level. Planning the process up front is time well spent. A good executive search specialist can help to refine that process with you and source the very best candidates, so your time and energy can be spent on ensuring the right fit.


Newman Stewart are the experts in global executive search and selection. Get in touch now to see how we can help you get the right candidate for your next role.