The executive search process is a two way street - and while much attention is given to a candidate making the best first impression that they can, it is important for clients to remember that they need to nail that first impression too.
Successful searches are built on a foundation of open communication, and well before interviewing a candidate, a client should provide as much access as necessary to its executive search partner, so that the team, company culture, and other important details about the opportunity are accurately represented to the candidate.
But no matter how much information a candidate has coming in, that initial meeting is still a make-or-break event, dictating whether a desired candidate wants to continue on in the process - and there are several simple but important points for clients to remember to ensure they make the best first impression possible.
1. Be on time. One client of ours - a senior hiring executive for a multi-billion revenue technology company - valued punctuality in the extreme. If a candidate was even a few minutes late, regardless of mitigating factors, he or she was stricken from consideration. The client's reasoning was that arriving on time demonstrated the depth of professionalism, preparedness, and respect for the hiring manager that a candidate possessed. While we wouldn't go that far and don't expect a candidate to withdraw from a search if a hiring manager was running a few minutes late, it is important to start interactions on the right foot, and not have a candidate waiting alone for 30 minutes in a vacant lobby.
2. Give a candidate your full attention. We've heard horror stories from candidates where client interviewers were actually reading and responding to emails on their desktop PC for extended periods during the meeting. Candidates are giving their time - when they could be responding to emails, doing critical work, etc. - and commitment to the meeting, and the client should show appreciation for the situation and similarly fully engage themselves.
3. Do your homework. Top candidates perform in-depth due diligence prior to an interview, and clients should do the same. Starting a meeting by saying "this is the first time I've had a free minute to look at your resume" to a candidate isn't a reflection of how busy you are, but rather the level of respect you are showing to the candidate. Top search firms provide concise, detailed appraisals of a candidate in addition to their resume, and it is critical to take the time to review those documents prior to the meeting.
4. Guide the process. A good candidate listens first, and will look to you for indicators. Be clear on the important points you want to cover in the time you have allotted. Many clients don't spend enough time thinking through or planning the interview session. When familiarizing yourself with the candidate's background prior to the meeting, be sure to think through specifically the goal of the interview - what are you trying to learn and how will you ensure that you do so.
5. Details matter. Typical business attire at the company may not be a suit and tie, but don't show up to the interview looking ready for vacation. Again, the candidate is investing significant time in the search process and evaluating all the cues he or she can from you. The condition of your office, how you carry yourself, and other non-verbal indicators speak volumes to a candidate about both you and your company.
6. Roll out the red carpet. That cross-country relocation looks a lot more palatable when an organization shows it truly cares and makes the candidate feel special. If a client isn't putting all of their effort into showing how much they value and respect the candidate's participation in the process, the candidate may not stay in the process for very long.
First impressions aren't everything, but by making a great one, a client ensures they are in the best position possible to eventually welcome that top candidate on board.