The Marketing & Sales Executive Candidate Experience: A Bilateral Assessment
Just as perception is reality and the whole is the sum of its parts, your company’s corporate brand, its employer brand, and its candidate experience are intertwined, each serving as a window into your company, its mission, and its culture. This has never been truer than it is today, when a mobile workforce and changing business conditions have combined to blur the distinctions between formerly discrete entities such as markets and labor pools while social media and digital communications have given each comparable and often overlapping voices. At a time when customers, employees, job candidates, suppliers, and investors regularly air their grievances in public forums, it is important that all have a favorable, consistent impression of your company. This is particularly true in view of increased competition for both the customers who drive your business and the talent that serves them. These factors are among the principal reasons that many companies are giving the candidate experience heightened attention and more concentrated focus, especially as it applies to executive talent acquisition in marketing, sales, communications, and other externally-oriented functions.
Different Takes on the Same Picture
Most companies are multifaceted and multifunctional, with a range of objectives they must achieve, stakeholder expectations they must meet, and audience messages they must deliver. In the past, it didn’t matter very much if communications aimed at one constituency painted a somewhat different picture of an organization than did communications targeted at another. However, since the Internet has granted disparate audiences easy access to information not necessarily intended for their consumption and also provides them with public forums for providing both good and bad feedback, the penalty for corporate inconsistency has increased markedly and can ultimately lead to a company losing credibility across all of its constituencies.
This is why corporate branding (which is geared towards positioning a company as a preferred solutions or investment vehicle) and employer branding (which is focused on promoting the company as a preferred organization in which to work) cannot vary too widely in terms of the picture that each paints of an organization. For example, in the hospitality industry, a 5-star hotel chain’s corporate/customer branding cannot credibly portray it as being focused on unparalleled customer service and a top-of-the-line guest experience while its employment brand promotes it as a fast-paced, competitive work environment where numbers-driven managers will thrive and rise above all others. The likelihood of one group seeing the messages intended for the other is simply too high, as is the possibility of a decline in company trust across both groups in consequence.
The same dynamic applies to the disconnect between a company’s employee brand and the employee and candidate experiences. For instance, a business whose employee brand depicts it as a family-friendly enterprise that stresses work-life balance and offers flex-time, work from home options, and paid parental leave will find itself in an embarrassing and potentially damaging position if social media postings by current employees indicate that most of these assertions are hollow and misleading. Similarly, a company that touts mutual respect and employee empowerment in its vision statement but has an erratic interview process and interviewers who inadvertently come off as arbitrary or patronizing could result in candidate experiences that are perceived as haphazard and disrespectful, leading to unflattering public feedback. In fact, a recent industry survey indicated that 72 percent of job seekers had undergone poor candidate experiences and that 60 percent had mentioned such incidents online or to others personally.
Such considerations are especially cogent in relation to executive candidates, who often have extensive peer networks and are accustomed to high levels of professionalism. They are perhaps even more relevant in respect to marketing and sales executive candidates, who are themselves typically skilled at professional presentation and adept at interpersonal relations and who, having spent their careers putting their employers’ “best foot forward,” can have high expectations regarding professionalism and, by extension, the candidate experience.
Leveling the Grade — on Both Sides of the Street
A company intent on finding the best executive candidate — whether in marketing, sales, or another key function — will typically prepare an extensive list of interview questions, spanning the candidate-perceived greatest strengths and weaknesses, achievements and challenges, leadership style, areas for needed or desired further development, and ultimate career goals, to name only a few potential areas of inquiry. Good executive candidates expect this; they usually know from personal experience that an executive hire is a high-stakes undertaking for a company since selecting the right candidate will contribute to building the business whereas choosing the wrong one could lead to havoc.
Likewise, a company that provides a good candidate experience normally recognizes that the stakes are equally high for executive candidates, given that they are already successful and well-established and might have families who will be affected by a career change, especially if it involves relocation. Consequently, hiring managers are not surprised if executive candidates want to receive significant amounts of relevant information during the candidate experience — either before, during, or subsequent to the actual interview process. For example, most executive candidates will — and should — want to know the scope of the applied-for position; its number of direct reports, their roles, and number of subordinates; the position’s specific objectives and how they relate to and support company goals and strategy; and, finally, how success in the position will be measured in the immediate, near, and long terms.
The above list may expand and vary depending on the executive position in question and might also include information that will require the signing of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) by the candidate. For instance, a marketing executive candidate might expect information regarding the hiring company’s positioning and messaging strategy, product portfolio, market mix, traditional and digital promotional channels, agency partnerships, marketing database breadth and depth, and annual lead and opportunity tallies. Sales executive candidates, for their part, might be interested in sales channel mix, sales territory organization, customer acquisition and customer retention goals, sales incentives, and product prioritization.
These might seem like steep information requirements but a marketing or sales executive candidate’s interest in information of this sort often correlates to his or her level of qualification. Conversely, the company’s readiness and willingness to provide such information can be viewed by candidates as indicative of how seriously it considers their candidacies and how appreciative it is of the time and effort they’ve expended in applying, a perspective that contributes to a more positive candidate experience.
Pitfalls & Process Issues
Sometimes, despite successful preliminary steps — a passive executive candidate’s positive response to the initial outreach, a string of distance interviews favorably perceived by the company and candidate, a satisfactory exchange of the requisite information by both parties — the candidate experience goes awry during the interview process. Ironically, such mishaps are often attributable to derailments in two easily managed areas — preparation and logistics. On the preparation side, problems can occur if interviewers ask questions that indicate they haven’t even taken the time to review the candidate’s résumé or if they unwittingly ask questions that come off as patronizing. On the logistics side, relatively simple matters like mix ups in the sequence of interviews, lateness of interviewees, lunch cancellations, and, worst of all, last-minute date changes, can create a poor impression of the company’s culture and leave the candidate feeling that his or her candidacy is not truly valued and that the time he or she has expended on the application process has been pointless.
Aftermath — The Potentially Costly Consequences of a Bad Candidate Experience
Obviously, the glitches described above pose a problem if the candidate in question is the front-runner, but there can also be undesirable outcomes when this is not the case since, as noted earlier, most executives are well connected, and the propensity to talk about bad candidate experiences is understandably higher among rejected applicants than for hired individuals. This causes concern because of potential damage to a company’s employer brand, which in turn can negatively affect the company’s ability to attract first-rate talent, with significant financial ramifications. As a case in point, a recent LinkedIn study indicates that companies whose employer brand is found wanting can face up to 10% in additional annual wage expenditures. What’s more, the same study suggests that over half of U.S. professionals would not consider working for a company whose employer brand they perceived as markedly tarnished.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure — Ensuring a Good Candidate Experience
The good news is that it’s not hard to safeguard your employer brand and make sure that marketing, sales, and other executive candidates have positive experiences. It just requires interviewer preparation and adherence to standard processes. The first should entail the creation and distribution to the interview team of comprehensive candidate dossiers that include all candidate background information and summaries of shared materials, thereby reducing the chances of confusion or contradiction among interviewers. The second should provide scheduling procedures (i.e., no schedule changes after a certain date) and interview guidelines (i.e., how to respond to sensitive candidate questions and avoid unintended condescension) as well as reinforce EOE (Equal Opportunity Employer) considerations, (i.e., a review of subjects to be avoided for legal reasons).
Great Executive Candidate Experiences — Practice Makes Perfect
Many, if not most, executive-level vacancies are filled with passive candidates as a result of referrals from a company’s own senior manager, its internal HR function, and, often, from an external search firm hired to augment the efforts of the first two. In the last case, it is important to retain a search consultancy with experience in executive search. Such a firm will be well versed in and adept at the entire search process, from candidate pool definition and reduction through initial outreach, follow-up phone screening, and scheduling of company interviewing. Moreover, a good executive search firm will perform each of these actions with a thoroughness and professionalism resulting from years of successful practice.
Finally, whether you’re looking for a marketing, sales, or other key executive, it’s a good idea to hire a search firm with demonstrated experience in the same area since such a firm will possess the requisite functional expertise and have access to the appropriate professional networks. For example, a firm that has previously performed marketing- and sales-related searches will not only have extensive contacts in those fields but will also be better equipped to formulate the right interview questions and accurately evaluate the answers — advantages that can contribute immeasurably to shortening a search’s duration.
It might take a little more work to find executive search firms with such specific qualifications and they might charge marginally more than less-qualified alternatives, but they will likely deliver better results and a better experience for you, your employer brand, and your candidates—and that, after all, is the ultimate objective.
For comments or for more information, please contact:
Customer and prospect contact: Ronald S. Torch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President, Torch Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.torchgroup.com, 440.519.1822 x101.
Media contact: Ronald-Stéphane Gilbért, Global Managing Director, Gilbért, Flossmann & Zhang Worldwide, email@example.com, www.globalmarcomm.com, 216.816.4947.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On May 24, 2018
- 0 Comments