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The 4 Most Difficult Times to Recruit an Executive

Timing has a significant impact on executive recruiting. There are certain times when someone is much less likely to consider a new opportunity. In this article, you will learn the four most difficult times to recruit an executive.

(1) When a big payout is on the horizon

Executive compensation packages often feature significant financial incentives. Some of these are tied to specific dates, like a bonus being paid at the end of the year, or equity vesting on a certain date. Other incentives are tied to specific events, such as a company being acquired or going public. Time-based and event-based financial incentives are often referred to as “golden handcuffs,” since they are intended to prevent top people from leaving for other opportunities.

It is much more difficult to recruit an executive when they have significant “golden handcuffs,” and a big payout is on the horizon. The executive would either have to leave a lot of money on the table, or the new company would have to lure him away by covering part or all of the money that he would be walking away from.

(2) When a promotion is on the horizon (or right after a promotion)

It’s always important to understand when someone will be up for their next promotion and what their chances are of landing that new role. The closer that someone is to a promotion, the less likely that he will consider leaving his current employer for another opportunity.

An executive is also much less likely to leave a company right after being promoted. There is usually a sense of excitement about stepping into a new and more challenging role. In addition, there is usually a sense of obligation to an organization after it has made a bigger commitment to you.

Note: When an executive is passed over for a promotion, his mindset can change very quickly. Instead of being committed to his current employer, he might begin to actively pursue other opportunities.

(3) During their busy season

Many industries have certain times of year that are much busier than others. It’s much more difficult to recruit executives during these busier times. There are two main reasons why. First of all, an executive usually has less time and energy to evaluate new opportunities. Secondly, an executive is usually not comfortable abandoning his current employer during the busy season. (It’s a red flag if an executive is not concerned about the impact that their departure would have on their company.)

For example, my career began in the professional sports industry working for the NBA’s Washington Wizards. There was very little executive turnover in the organization during the NBA pre-season and regular season (October through April). Most departures occurred in the off-season between May and September. As another example, it would be extremely difficult to recruit an executive away from an accounting firm during their busy season of January through April. You would have a much better chance between May and December.

(4) Before their one-year work anniversary

Unless a work environment is toxic, an executive will usually not leave a company before reaching a one-year work anniversary. Younger employees might not be as concerned about leaving a role so quickly. However, executives rarely leave a company in less than a year. There are two main reasons why.

First of all, it doesn’t look good to leave a job less than one year in, especially when you are an executive. Secondly, executive compensation packages usually feature “golden handcuffs” and penalties for leaving before the one-year mark.

For example, there is usually a one-year cliff before any equity vests for an executive. As another example, many executive compensation packages include sign-on bonuses that are subject to a one-year clawback. An executive would have to pay back the sign-on bonus if he left before completing his twelfth month on the job.

Summary and Final Thoughts

While your company should always be trying to identify, attract, and hire exceptional leaders, there are certain times when you will be much less likely to lure someone away. It is much more difficult to recruit an executive when a big payout is on the horizon, when a promotion is on the horizon (or right after a promotion), during their busy season, or before their one-year work anniversary.

It’s certainly not impossible to recruit someone during one or more of these times. However, your company will need an even stronger value proposition, and your company will probably also need to pay even more than you would at another time.

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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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