Building A Championship Management Team: Recruitment Best Practices

Whether you’re a founder-owned business looking to build a leadership team to scale your company quickly, or simply needing to backfill a position on the executive team, recruiting A players is crucial to a company’s success. Many private equity firms have extensive experience in leading recruitment processes, both for their own firms and for their portfolio companies. At Montage Partners, we regularly assist our partner companies with recruiting for key positions, and have seen firsthand what it takes to run a successful search.

We’re sharing these best practices so that anyone – whether you have a capital partner or not – can find and hire the best candidates. This process is typically used for executive-level roles regardless of industry; for entry-level or other positions, many of these steps can be streamlined or adapted to suit your company’s needs.

Getting Started

You’ve identified the need for a new leadership position. Now what? One thing to keep in mind is that A players are often happily employed and may not necessarily be looking to make a move. This is why we often engage a sector-focused recruiter with a base of personal relationships within the company’s industry as a starting point. This network will be more likely to reach those candidates who would be a great fit but aren’t actively searching for a new role. If going this route, it’s wise to interview a couple (perhaps two to three) of recruiters before deciding which one is the best fit to lead the search for this particular role.

If hiring a recruiter to lead the search isn’t feasible or preferable, don’t discount your own network, or that of your other employees. High performers generally know other high performers, so this can be a great way to access quality candidates without solely relying on an online job platform or recruiter.

Create an External Position Profile + Internal Scorecard

Rather than a quick list of duties and basic education or experience requirements, it’s worth taking the time to create a more thoughtful position profile and share it with both recruiters and candidates. A complete position profile should capture key facts about your company, key objectives for the role, education, experience, or competencies needed for success, as well as key personality characteristics for a successful candidate. Additionally, it should give both recruiters and candidates an authentic sense of your company’s culture so that candidates can begin to self-select as to whether your culture is likely to be a good two-way fit. For our candidate profiles, for example, we always document our core values in the profile as one method of conveying this culture.

In addition to the external position profile, it’s a good idea to create an internal scorecard by which you’ll evaluate candidates. This document should define what success for a candidate will look like once in the role and be used throughout the interview process to objectively score candidates. One way to develop this scorecard is to define both the mission of the position and the outcomes expected from the hired candidate. The mission should be specific; in other words, it shouldn’t sound like it could apply to any position within your company. The list of key outcomes isn’t meant to capture every workstream for which this employee will have responsibility, but rather a shorter list of outcomes critical to success in the role. These should be measurable and preferably time-bound.

Build a Robust Candidate Pool

To increase the likelihood of reaching the best candidates, and to position yourself to be highly selective later in the process, build a sufficiently large candidate pool. Even if you’ve hired a recruiter, there are other steps you can take to create this list. Seek referrals from employees, others in your personal or professional network, or recruiters who may work on a non-exclusive, success fee basis. Consider platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, or Handshake, including any industry-specific sites or pages within these sites.

Also keep in mind the timeline for the search. Some positions or industries have well-defined recruitment cycles, so recruiting outside of these times can limit the initial candidate pool and may result in fewer top-quality candidates.

The Interviews

Yes, that’s interviews, plural. As with writing the position profile, it’s worth the effort to engage in a lengthier interview process for most executive roles, as it takes time to understand candidates and assess fit. We typically use a four-step process: a screening interview, a longer second-round interview, a case study or technical interview, and confirmatory fit interviews with other team members the candidate will be working with.

Keep the initial screening interviews brief; around 30 minutes is a good target. To allow for easier comparability across candidates, use a consistent, structured interview format and set of questions. Even in the screening interview, create a two-way dialogue so that you’re starting to learn about the goals of each candidate and what drew them to the role, rather than you just presenting what you’re looking for and having candidates try to explain how they fit this description. Allow time for candidates to ask questions so that those who don’t see a good two-way fit can self-select out. Following the initial interview, be selective with who you invite to the second round. From this point on, both you and the candidate will be investing significant time in the process, so you want to avoid wasting anyone’s time.

Second round interviews should be longer to allow you to understand in depth a candidate’s prior experiences, career goals, patterns of behavior, and patterns of achievement. Our interviews at this stage tend to run around 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the extent of a candidate’s career history. We recommend following the Who method of interviewing for this round, which involves an in-depth chronological walk-through of the candidate’s academic and career journey.

The purpose of the Who interview is to develop a well-reasoned view of patterns of behavior. Has this candidate found a way to be successful at every step in his/her academic and career journey to date? Have they repeatedly had relationship problems with his/her prior colleagues? Do they tend to assign blame to others in instances when goals haven’t been met? As you go through these interviews, keep in mind that A players tend to have more clarity with regard to their goals, and are more likely to speak in fact and share details when describing prior events (as opposed to speaking in generalities that make it unclear what they accomplished).

If more than one person from your company is interviewing candidates at this stage, use the scorecard and detailed notes to ensure consistency. A second interviewer should not be asking the same set of questions as the first interviewer; their focus should be on developing further questions that identify those patterns discussed above. Use the scorecard you developed at the start of the process to compare candidates and determine the probability of each candidate being successful in the role.

Depending on the nature of the position and your industry, you may want to consider incorporating a technical interview or case study into the process at this stage. This should be clearly relevant to the role and designed to assess technical skills or understand how the candidate’s vision for the role or outcomes align with your definition of success. Be very selective about who you move to this step from the Who interview; only ask candidates who you and other interviewers have determined are likely to be successful in the role, using this step as a way to validate that decision (rather than a way to make that determination).

To make your decision on a candidate, try to combine data gleaned through the interview process with other available objective data points. Performance on the technical interview or case study can be one of these. Others can include the pace or frequency of prior promotions, if they’ve been recruited by former colleagues to new companies or positions, any quantitative scores from prior performance evaluations, or college or graduate school GPAs.

After you’ve selected who you believe is the candidate you want to hire, consider engaging your broader team to confirm cultural fit. Focus on employees who will be working directly with the new hire, and have them meet with the candidate in one-on-one or two-on-one, informal interviews. This could be as casual as a coffee or lunch. Rather than focusing on any formal or technical questions, have your team members use this time to assess cultural and personal fit. Is everyone excited to work with this candidate? Do they seem interested and excited to work with the rest of the team? Are there any personality “red flags” that arise in the less formal setting?

Reference Calls

After you’ve extended an offer and it’s accepted, there’s one more step to complete to validate your decision: reference calls. This shouldn’t be a surprise to the candidate; you should let them know in earlier interviews that this will be part of the process and ask them to confirm they’re able and willing to provide these references. It can be tempting to skip these given natural excitement and eagerness for the candidate to start, but it’s important to confirm that these references corroborate the patterns of behavior you’ve come to learn about your new hire during interviews. Ask questions that are similar to those you asked the candidate in interviews to see how closely their answers align with their reference’s.

While this process can feel lengthy and requires significant effort and mindshare from you, keep in mind that it’s far more disruptive to have to continually replace positions when new hires turn out not to be a good fit. Your goal through any recruitment process should not be to complete the interviews as quickly as possible, or to extend an offer to the “best interviewer”. Remind yourself that the goal is to ensure to the greatest extent possible that your chosen candidate is successful and presents a win-win opportunity for you both (the opportunity should align with the candidate’s career goals they shared early in the interview process). A thoughtful and in-depth process allows you to confirm this fit, rather than relying on intuition.