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5 Keys to Recruit Leaders from Top Companies (Even if Your Company is Struggling)

Companies with weaker brands often want to recruit executives who work for stronger brands. It’s easy to understand why.

First of all, hiring someone from a more well-respected company can improve an organization’s perception in the market, and that can help attract additional talent and new customers. Secondly, when an organization hires someone from an admired company, the organization also gets to benefit from the knowledge and experience that executive will have gained from working inside of an industry leader. That can lead to a better strategy, a better culture, and better organizational performance.

All of this sounds great in theory, but it can be very difficult in practice to recruit someone from a top company, especially if your company is not as well-known or not as well-respected. In this article, you will learn five keys to recruit executives from top companies, even if your company is struggling.

1. Hire a third-party executive search firm for help.

One of the main benefits of hiring a search firm is that your company will attract better candidates than you would on your own. An executive at a top company is much more likely to take a call from a third-party recruiter than an internal recruiter, especially if the internal recruiter works for an organization with a weak brand.

Many top candidates will immediately write off an opportunity once they see who it is with. As a result, I and many other third-party recruiters do not reveal a company’s name until getting someone on the phone- when there is a much better chance to talk through potential objections. On the other hand, internal recruiters are simply not able to have as many of these live conversations because they cannot keep their company confidential in their initial message. It’s clear who the opportunity is with because that’s who the internal recruiter works for.

Note: This article goes into more detail about why third-party recruiters can attract better candidates than internal recruiters.

2. Reach out to candidates at the right time.

No matter who or where your company wants to recruit, there are certain times when you will have much more success. For example, many industries have specific times each year that are much busier than others. It’s much more difficult to recruit executives during these busier times.

In addition, executive compensation packages often feature significant financial incentives that are either time-based (i.e. a bonus being paid at the end of the year) or event-based (i.e. a company being acquired). It is much easier to recruit an executive when a big payout has just occurred and/or is not on the horizon.

The needs of your company might require that you contact candidates at a less than ideal time. If possible, try to time your outreach strategically though. Otherwise, be prepared for more rejections and for having to pay even more than you would at another time.

Note: This article highlights the four most difficult times to recruit an executive.

3. Focus on rising star executives.

Executives are very unlikely to leave a top brand unless they can step into a role where they can have more personal impact. That might include the opportunity to lead a bigger team or business unit, to be higher up in the organization, and/or to own a bigger part of a function. Ultimately, your role somehow needs to provide a broader scope of responsibilities. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the candidate stay where he is?

If you want to attract candidates from top companies, you are usually better off pursuing rising star executives instead of candidates with more experience. By focusing on people who are 1-2 levels below the level/title of your role, your role will be seen as a step-up and therefore as more compelling.

Targeting rising stars provides benefits for your company as well. For example, rising stars typically have lower salary requirements, and they typically feel like they have more to prove than those who are further along in their careers.

4. Offer a better compensation package.

If you want an executive to leave a top company, you need to offset the risk that he will be taking by moving to a lesser brand. In addition to offering a bigger role with more responsibilities, a better compensation package is another way to help someone justify the risk.

If it’s not possible to offer a base salary that is at least 10-20% higher, you could offer better short-term incentives (i.e. a more generous bonus or commission structure) or better long-term incentives (i.e. more equity). Offering more equity might be a more viable option if your company is early-stage, has limited cash flow, or plans to have a liquidity event in the next few years.

Your company could also offer a better work location, an easier commute, less travel, or other perks. While these special benefits cannot make up for a significant financial gap, they can help the seal the deal when you are in the same ballpark. 

Note: This article provides more tips on how to design a better compensation package (without offering a higher base salary).

5. Pursue recent alumni also.

Even if you follow all the advice mentioned in this article, the truth is that it will still be challenging to recruit executives who are currently employed by top companies, especially if your company is struggling. As a result, be sure to target recent alumni from admired companies as well.

It is typically much easier to recruit someone after he has left a top brand than when he is still working for a top brand. However, the benefits for your company will be largely the same. You can still get a boost in credibility from hiring someone who recently worked for a top brand. In addition, your company also gets to benefit from the training and best-practices that the executive will have learned by working for an industry leader.

P.S. Looking for more help with your company’s executive recruiting efforts?

Download my free eBook below, or contact me directly to schedule a call.

About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for innovative sports, fitness, and wellness companies. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and, and he is the author of two books and over 250 articles on career management, peak performance, and executive recruiting.

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