Who’s Doing the Interviewing, Anyway?

Hiring at the executive level is entirely different from hiring middle- or lower-level employees. Senior people have a history that has taught them what works (at least for them) and what doesn’t. They know what they want and don’t want, and they trust their ability to evaluate corporate goals and expectations and assess how achievable they are.  Senior people also value their own talent and trust their instincts. They want to make sure that the skill set they bring to the table will make a measurable contribution to their future employer.    

At the senior level, the tables often turn because top executives are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. At DrexlerGellerAssociates we’ve learned a lot about what top advertising and media talent seek in a new job, and how they make the decision to change companies. Based on our experience with senior people who have changed positions successfully in the past few years, we have identified several criteria that seem to resonate with the majority of executives.

I want to make a difference.

When we ask successful advertising and media executives what their primary objective is in evaluating new opportunities, they answer somewhat unanimously: They want to make a difference. It makes sense. These are people who bring a high level of experience and energy to the workplace. They are challenged by opportunity and motivated by their ability to implement growth and change. This is, to a great degree, what has already made them successful in their careers. They seek a company that welcomes their vision and is willing to put resources behind it. At the same time, these candidates are looking for a clear indication that their new company is open to new ideas and willing to entertain different ways of thinking. Demonstrate that, and you will be one step closer to recruiting them.

I want more responsibility.

Top advertising and media executives have learned through experience (usually with more than one company) what often works and what often doesn’t. They have paid their dues and have earned the right to be responsible for setting a course and steering the ship in the best direction. They want to exercise that right, and they are willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions and decisions. Empowering senior executives with clearly defined responsibilities is a win-win. But there are certain caveats.

No company and no employee should ever be responsible for boosting someone’s political ambitions or building a faulty ego. Only when goals are real and measurable, and only when they provide a clear corporate benefit, can top talent work successfully. Yes, the best-laid plans can change, and there must be room left for fluidity. But to ensure that a new executive has the greatest chance to succeed with a company, both parties must agree from the start about expectations, opportunities to achieve them and ways to measure them.
I want accountability and support.

Senior executives have learned a few things on their way up the corporate ladder. Many have learned the hard way that it is only when everyone fully understands what is expected and these expectations are supported by the corporate infrastructure that the executive can truly succeed.

Senior executives want assurance that the company is ready to advocate for change, implement it and support it. They will not want to work for a company where ideas are stifled by entrenched executives who say, “That’s not the way we do it around here.”

I want to be in the right environment.

Everyone knows (or should know) the importance of a good “fit.”

Every company has a style and culture. It sometimes may be difficult to define or communicate during an interview, but the corporate environment can be the difference between an employee succeeding or failing.

Generally, corporate culture is defined by the values of a company. How open is it to new ideas? How are problems handled or challenges overcome? What avenues and opportunities are there for an employee to be heard, regardless of whether that employee is in agreement with a corporate philosophy or mandate? A good fit — for both the company and the employee — is becoming increasingly important as the advertising and media community moves to digital industries to incorporate new skills and talent.  

Finding a top-level executive from outside the rank and file can bring in a fresh outlook and often better-than-expected results. But it can be problematic if the transition causes culture shock. Interviewing candidates from other industries requires looking at the culture and traditions of those companies from which you are recruiting. Employees with a history of working for entrepreneurial companies will be most comfortable working within that kind of culture. Conservative employees will mostly likely do better in places where more traditional practices are preferred. Asking questions about how decisions were made and communicated at your candidate’s previous companies and how differences were resolved increases the odds that this candidate will succeed with you.

I want a shared risk.

Talented, experienced executives are willing to take risks and are happy to bet on their own talents and skills. By offering a solid compensation package with fair and reasonable goals, you tell your candidate that you are willing to make the investment. But if your company wants a candidate to take risks, you must be willing to take some risk as well. Start out with a package that demonstrates a confidence in his or her performance, and you will start out with an employee who hits the ground running. Which, at this level, is what we expect. 

Michael Drexler, a former CEO of Optimedia U.S. and 40-year ad industry veteran, is a founder and principal at DrexlerGellerAssociates. He can be reached at mike@dgasearch.com.