5 Signs Your Executive Search Will Fail

Apr 25, 2024
5 Signs Your Executive Search Will Fail
Photo by Rivage / Unsplash

Executive searches can stall out for a variety of reasons.  

Sometimes, candidates fall through due to circumstances out of your control: the compensation isn’t right, or the timing is bad. What about factors that are within your control? There are a few ways you can avoid unnecessary roadblocks and maximize your search results. 

Our team of recruiters have seen it all when it comes to executive search, so we asked them how to spot the early signs of an unsuccessful executive search. Read on to find out what they said—and learn how to avoid a negative outcome. 

The team isn’t aligned on why you’re hiring

Having everyone on your team on the same page is crucial to a successful executive search. 

If you want to avoid unnecessary delays, confusion, or bad candidate experiences, stakeholders in the process—everyone from the executive team, hiring managers, and board, to any direct reports involved in the search—need to be aligned from the beginning. 

What exactly does that look like? 

Everyone should understand why this role is open. Whether you’re backfilling a position, adding a leadership role, or launching an entirely new team, the hiring team needs to be clear on what need the new hire will fulfill. What are the goals for this role? How will the organization grow and develop as a result of the hire? Why is now the right time to add to the team? 

Everyone should know what the ideal candidate brings to the table. Some candidates are fantastic leaders—just not for your organization. Not every Head of Marketing is the same. Not every Chief Operating Officer is right for your COO role. Everyone on your hiring team needs to know exactly what skills or experiences you’re looking for. 

Everyone should be clear on expectations for the search. Once your team is on the same page about what you’re looking for in a leader, clarify how you’ll communicate with prospective candidates (including how you’ll communicate about compensation). If a candidate gets inconsistent messages at different points in the interview process or feels like your leadership team is out of sync with one another, it can contribute to a negative experience. 

If your hiring manager (often the CEO) isn’t fully invested in the process, this is another sign your executive search will fail. 

Running an executive search can be demanding, and executives are busy. Even when partnering with a firm, the hiring manager owns certain parts of candidate communication, manages team expectations, and controls their calendar. If the hiring manager isn’t committed to prioritizing the search, the process is more likely to stall. 

Individuals on the hiring team are unclear about their role in the hiring process

Everyone should understand their role in the interview process. 

The goal of the interview process is to learn as much as possible about potential hires, so every member of the interview team should have a clear role. This way, you can avoid asking the same questions over and over again, and you’ll benefit from each person’s unique perspective on your candidates. 

The hiring team lacks a sense of urgency

Executive searches can be time-consuming, but it’s important to keep things moving. Make sure your team understands what’s expected of them throughout the process. 

Failing to set expectations around timing or urgency can result in delays in the interview process. Delays send a message to candidates that you’re not interested or not taking the search seriously. Whether this is true or not, it can sour the interview experience or cause prospects to move on as other opportunities arise. 

You’re hung up on the one that got away

The idea (or the memory) of the elusive perfect candidate can distract you from the phenomenal options right in front of you. 

Sometimes, a hiring team is sold on a single candidate, but the hire falls through. Whether it was because the team couldn’t commit, the candidate took another opportunity, or the parties couldn’t agree on compensation, the next step has to be to regroup.  

Most of the time, there are multiple executives who could be a great fit for your organization. If your hiring team misses out on a dream candidate, take a moment to take inventory of what was great about the candidate and what didn’t work out. From there, do your best to continue the search without comparing every new candidate to the previous one. It’s a recipe for dissatisfaction, delay, and an unsuccessful search. 


At Bolster, we’re reinventing executive search by combining the power of experienced recruiters with our intelligent sourcing platform. Built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, Bolster matches CEOs with transformational executives for full-time, fractional, and board roles—without the hassle of traditional talent sourcing. It’s smarter search done faster and with more confidence.

When you work with Bolster, our extraordinary team will work alongside you to make your search a success. We take the time to listen, understand, and respond to your needs, support you throughout your search, and offer our expertise as a resource. 

Want to know more about what it’s like to work with us? Let us know what you’re looking for.