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GBD's Top Four Search Principles

Lisa Davie

Like many of you over the past year, we at Growth by Design had to be nimble and adjust to the changing market, particularly, our search practice. Almost overnight, the number of open Talent Acquisition leadership roles dropped dramatically, while our People leadership roles picked up. And while the particular competencies, experiences, and characteristics of these roles vary from TA leadership roles, we’ve noticed that no matter what the role, there are four guiding principles for running a successful search.

Principle 1: Role Scoping 

We believe accurate role scoping is the cornerstone of a successful search process. Gaining clarity and alignment on the role early in the process ultimately leads to a faster and more productive search, particularly in nuanced roles like Talent and People leadership. You don’t waste time (and employer brand capital!) by churning through candidates hoping to “know it when you see it.” We spend a lot of time up front exploring not just what is needed in this role, but also for the function, the company, and the most critical stakeholders. We do this in a variety of ways, including:

  • Deep intakes with the hiring manager. We want to know everything they want in this person, as well as what makes the position and the company compelling to a candidate. This gives us the essential texture that allows us to frame opportunities in a much more nuanced way - what’s happening organizationally, where are areas that have been challenging, why are people excited about the business, how good is the existing team, etc…
  • Diagnostic tools. Our most effective is our 2x2 matrix where we outline and stack rank the must-haves and nice-to-haves for the role. This serves as our north star when we source, assess, and select candidates.
  • Stakeholder conversations. It’s incredibly useful to meet with stakeholders and interviewers before we start meeting candidates. This gives us a chance to uncover areas of misalignment before meeting candidates. And it gives us a better pitch of the role.
  • Robust Job Descriptions help both the hiring team and candidate understand the requirements of the role.

Principle 2: Structured Interview Process

Our clients sometimes question whether a structured interview process actually helps. They are worried that it will take too long or give the candidates “the answers to the test.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. A structured interview process will help you find the right candidate more quickly and ensure a more robust assessment (leading to higher predictions of a successful match), improved candidate experience, and a reduction in bias.

A structured interview process includes:

  • Designing interview panels and assigning focus areas to interviewers. The focus areas should directly correlate with the requirements of the job.
  • Align and set expectations with an interview pre-brief before meeting candidates. It is vital to ensure that each interviewer understands their role in assessment as well as the specifications of the job. We want to avoid people asking the same questions and/or questions that aren’t relevant to the job. This is also where hiring managers can call out specific misalignments and how they are going to make the final hiring decisions knowing there are certain areas that may be in conflict. This helps the team get context into why certain experiences, skills, or attributes are priorities for the hiring manager.
  • Prep all candidates the same. Prepping candidates doesn’t give them “the answers.” Rather it helps candidates best prepare for their interviews, so they know what to expect and how they are being assessed. At GBD, we create a comprehensive candidate packet for each role that includes the job description, company information, org chart, interview process and focus areas, and recent company news. By giving each candidate the same, helpful feedback, we reduce inconsistencies with and improve candidate preparation. 
  • Timely debriefs with the hiring team. Gathering job-related evidence from the interview team in a debrief helps create unbiased and more robust assessments and successful hiring decisions. We aim to have these debriefs within 24 hours of the interviews so the assessment is top of mind for interviewers and we can get back to the candidate quickly.

Principle 3: Candidate Experience 

The job market may not be as frothy as it was a year and a half ago, but top talent still moves fast and candidate experience is as important as ever. This is an opportunity for companies to put their best foot forward and show the candidate that the company is a fantastic place to work. The tenets of candidate experience we recommend include:

  • Prompt communication. There’s nothing worse than having a great interview with a company and then hearing nothing…or worse, hearing from the company months later when the candidate’s already accepted another role! We aim to check in with our candidates no more than 24 hours after each step of the process. Even if we don’t have a full update, candidates really appreciate knowing that you are thinking of them.
  • Align the experience to your unique culture. Put together an experience that showcases a company’s values and shows candidates what you are all about. For example, when I worked at Airbnb, one of the core values was “Be A Host.” Our onsite interview process embodied this: we started with a tour of the building, an offering of food or beverage, coached each interviewer to start the conversation by introducing themself and building rapport, and closed out an interview by personally walking the candidate out. Candidates don’t want to just hear what makes the culture, they want to experience it. 

Principle 4: Successful Close

When I first started my search career, I received the advice: “Getting to offer doesn’t mean the search is closed. It means a whole new process is just beginning.” So very true. Getting to offer is exciting, but definitely does not mean you are done. Here’s a few things to consider as you near the finish line.

  • References are still important even if the candidate provides them. Yes, the candidate is going to provide references that are largely positive. They are still valuable because: 
  • They provide insight into a candidate’s strengths as well as how best to onboard and manage them.
  • References will also shed light on areas to develop…this is especially true from more senior references who usually provide a balanced assessment.
  • They give a variety of viewpoints. We recommend a peer, manager, and direct report at a minimum. For Talent and People roles, a client reference is also good. Be intentional about the different perspectives and signals you want in order to get the most robust assessment.
  • Backchannels - Backchannels are tricky and we don't recommend them. They can lead to a loss of candidate confidentiality and trust, a viewpoint taken out of context, and at worst, a legal situation. That said, we are seeing more companies seeking to conduct backchannels. If you must do them, we recommend:
  • Steer clear of the current employer
  • Make sure you get the context
  • Obtain them only from people you trust that have similar expectations 
  • Timing. Even in this market, timing is important. Top talent moves fast and is often considering several offers at once. Once you find a candidate that meets your criteria and excites the team, there’s no reason to hold out to see “who else comes along.” Candidates should be compared to the requirements of the job rather than one another. Time really does kill all deals.

No matter the role, size, or type of company, we find that these principles lead to a great candidate match in a shortened amount of time. We’re passionate about a structured hiring process, so please connect with us if you ever want to geek out on it. And, of course, if you need help with your People, Talent, and Product leadership searches, please reach out. We’d love to help!

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