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3 Steps You Don’t Want to Skip When Hiring Senior Leaders

No one wants to wind up with the wrong hire.

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BY Heidi Zak - 11 Jul 2018

3 Steps You Don't Want to Skip When Hiring Senior Leaders

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Hiring for your senior leadership team is no easy task. Just narrowing down the field of candidates is a daunting job.

At ThirdLove, we handled 5,000 applicants from January to May 2018. That led to about 800 interviews and a 3 percent acceptance rate. To be a part of that 3 percent--especially in a senior management role--a candidate had to be multi-functional.

In a large corporate environment, you may be able to get away with hiring someone who does one thing really well. But at a startup, you need people on your senior leadership team who can perform in multiple capacities.

Of course, no one can do everything. That's why part of finding the perfect leader is picking three to five "must-have" skills and then hiring accordingly.

Here's what that looks like--and what else to do when recruiting:

1. Before you begin searching for a senior leader, know the top skills the role requires.

There have been times when we've hired someone for a senior leadership position at ThirdLove and it didn't work out. And honestly, it was never solely on them. In some cases, part of the problem was that our team didn't realize what skills we actually needed a candidate to have.

If you can't crystalize the traits for a given role, it becomes extremely difficult to hire for that position. And you can't expect a new hire to succeed in their role if their skills don't align with your needs.

No one's perfect. You won't find someone who is great at everything. But you should spend time identifying the three to five areas where the ideal candidate excels. For instance, you may need someone to manage an enormous team, which requires an exceptional leader.

So, before you hire anyone, you need to have a clear vision of those few traits they absolutely must have.

2. Look for leaders with multi-functional skills and the right type of expertise.

In a startup, senior leaders usually have a hand in multiple projects and departments.

We have a leader on our team who came to us from Gap, and she's managed several different teams really well during her time here. She's a planner by trade, but she initially managed customer experience. At different points in time, she has also managed email marketing, product management, finance, and data. Now she's leading operations, planning, and strategy.

That's an extreme example, but you need senior leaders who have the flexibility to step in and help handle complex areas of the business when circumstances demand it--even if their functional expertise is stronger than their industry expertise.

Choosing a person who has more industry or functional expertise often comes down to the role. If we hire a bra designer, for example, that person absolutely must have a wealth of experience in our specific industry. But our general counsel is not a specialist in the retail industry. Instead, he has 40 years of experience at top law firms and as a GC for a large public company. Given his abilities, we knew we could count on him to learn about the retail industry.

I'd even argue that bringing in someone with a different perspective can lead to fresher ideas than hiring an individual with 20 years of specific industry experience.

But whatever their level of experience, senior leaders should be able to adapt their skills to the situation.

3. Make sure you give a new leader enough time to step into the role.

When you're growing, innovating, and pushing boundaries, you need to hire people who can move quickly.

At ThirdLove, we like to start looping in new senior leadership hires before they even start. It usually takes anywhere from two weeks to a month before they begin, but during that time, we set up their email and add them to conversations. It helps get them up to speed so everything isn't brand new on day one.

We also provide them with an onboarding document that answers some essential questions and helps guide them through the first few weeks. What should the first 90 days look like? What are their goals? What systems do they need? Who should they hold 1:1 meetings with?

Generally speaking, we give new senior hires three months to get settled in their role before we make a decision about whether or not it's working. This is long enough for them to get comfortable in the position and start making an impact. And it's short enough that if we have to cut ties, it doesn't have a massive effect on the company.

If you've hired based on the specific skills you know you need for a leadership role, then all you can do is give your new hire the tools and information they need to be successful. With any luck, they'll be a dedicated part of your senior team for years to come.

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