Winning as an Executive Search Candidate

For more than 40 years, Howard Fischer Associates has helped leaders to secure executive positions in companies where they will thrive over the long term. During that time, we’ve worked with a range of experienced and successful candidates, those who have proven themselves to be valuable assets in the workplace. Being a successful job candidate is very similar to being a successful business person. It requires preparation, strategic thinking, and a vision for the end game. Whether you see yourself as an active or a passive candidate, if you agree to an interview you need to go in prepared. It is well understood that that means reading up on the company and the interviewers so that you can come across informed. What is less well understood, is that a candidate also needs to have a strategy going into the discussion and a game plan for subsequent rounds of interviews.

A candidate strategy such as this has three vectors. The first vector defines what you want to learn in each meeting in order to decide if you want to invest additional time in follow-up discussions. Think through what is most important to you as a candidate and what it is that would make a real difference to you in terms of your career satisfaction. Understand your own motivation for taking the meeting.

What does this new company and opportunity represent that your current company does not?  A better company culture? A stronger and more defensible market position? Accelerated company growth trajectory? Expanded responsibilities? Material increase in compensation? If you understand your own motivations, then you can ask better, more pertinent, and more strategic questions.

This strategy applies to every meeting, from the initial conversation with the recruiter, to the final discussion and offer presentation by the hiring executive. Taking this to heart, it behooves you to better understand who you will be meeting in an interview so that you can ask questions best suited to their role and experience. Certainly, some questions span across functions, but to ask the same questions of every executive neither projects innovative nor strategic thought. Depending on who you are speaking with and where you are in the process, “what you want to learn” changes.

The second vector is the personal impression of your brand that you want to leave the interviewer with when the meeting is over. Similar to tailoring your questions to suit the interviewer, your strategy around the impression you want to leave also needs to change. If you are speaking to the CEO, you might want to be sure to project strategic thought, success, executive presence, and leadership. Alternatively, if you are speaking to a potential peer, you want that individual to leave your meeting thinking, “I can enjoy working with this person. They are a subject matter expert in their discipline, and I can see them fitting positively into the culture of the company.” Specific to the audience, think through what is important to them and prepare your presentation on how you specifically satisfy that requirement.

The third and final vector of the strategy is to think through which aspects of your background the interviewer might be most interested in. What would be most relevant to them in your background either professionally, experientially, or culturally as they assess your fit with the job and the team. Think through the requirements of the role and the business problems that you will be asked to solve. How do these demands affect your interviewer personally and what have you done related to that that you can share to garner his support? Come up with specific examples beforehand and consider how you want to present those examples with clarity and conciseness. Get ahead of your interviewer and minimize the need to improvise under pressure.

In closing, whether you ultimately accept an offer or not, your candidate strategy will help you gather the right details and facts about the company so that you can make an informed and rational career decision. Own your participation in the process. Be strategic. Control the outcome.

For more best practices as a candidate seeking a new role, please contact me at or 215.568.8363.

Brad Frank, Partner

The Key to Hiring a Truly Impressive Executive

Contributed by Andy Farrell, Principal, Howard Fischer Associates. 

In my work across the sphere of high-tech executive recruiting, I’ve had the privilege to meet a diverse population of leaders. Some I’ve met on the conference and speaking circuits, some have been clients, and others have been cherished coworkers. Most have been charismatic, intelligent, and passionate individuals, with a genuine sense of concern for the wellbeing of the people under their command and a vision for the future of their organizations. While many people in executive positions would likely earn a similar description, a much smaller portion of executives can be described as “truly impressive.” So what makes the distinction?

In my experience, and based on anecdotal evidence, the difference between a successful leader and those that fail usually has something to do with their ability to rally the rightpeople around an initiative and keep them engaged. Isolating and identifying that quality in an executive, however, is often not a priority during the hiring process. Companies face a tremendous amount of pressure when filling an open executive slot. The focus on hiring someone with the right industry experience, proven success rate, and educational pedigree can sometimes feel so aggressive that it becomes easy to forget that an executive’s job isn’t about “doing the work” – it’s about building and managing the team of people that “do the work.”

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Assessing Cultural Fit – Key to Successful Hiring

Contributed by Howard Fischer Associates

When filling a vacant role, many companies are inclined to promote a current executive. This is not surprising given the number of benefits that make this approach attractive:

  • An internal candidate has established credibility as well as institutional knowledge about key stakeholders, company processes, and the industry in which they function;
  • Promoting an internal candidate can be a relatively quick and cost-efficient process;
  • Promoting from within shows goodwill. Employees appreciate company loyalty. Knowing that internal succession is possible will decrease turnover at all levels of your company;
  • Most importantly, an internal candidate understands your company culture and most likely already fits well within that culture.

External candidates are unknown, so many companies assume that they are making the right choice by promoting within. However, before you fill any role, you should always consider if an external search would be a worthwhile pursuit.

For example, if your company is in a disruptive industry, an external candidate might be the change agent and innovative thinker you need to pivot your company in a new direction. Or, if your company is currently experiencing slow growth, an external candidate may be the turnaround specialist you need to help push reset and find new footing within the marketplace.  Your company may prefer conducting an external search simply because an outsider brings a needed fresh perspective.

One of the biggest concerns (and often the biggest indicator of success) is how well an external candidate fits into a company’s existing culture. If you’ve decided to pursue an external hire, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the risk and find a cultural match.

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