It’s a major milestone in the career of any in-house HR Manager: recruiting the EA for the CEO (or another C-suite executive). What a challenge! It can be a daunting prospect. The EAs to the leadership team have unparalleled levels of reach and influence. No one else works so closely with the senior leadership of the organisation.
Most C-suite executives tend to stick with EAs for the long term. This means even established HR leaders may have very little experience recruiting an EA for the leadership. Plus, you have a demanding and exacting client who you’d dearly like to impress. Even more so when you’re recruiting for the CEO.
It’s no wonder that HR managers feel a touch nervous about the prospect.
Having recruited numerous EAs for CEOs and other C-suite executives, I’ve found the crucial element of success is always personality fit. When recruiting in this high-level space, it’s a given that the candidate has extensive experience, industry insight, strong organisational skills and is up to date with the latest tech tools.
In an ideal world, they will be a dynamic team
They’ll work harmoniously together, they’ll understand each other and they’ll support and encourage each other. If your leader is like most, they’ll be an exacting type, demanding a very high standard of performance, competence and emotional intelligence. CEOs and C-suite executives are under extreme pressure from all stakeholders, so they need an EA who won’t crack under the strain.
How on earth do you recruit for those skills? Everyone will say the same thing in your interview, so how do you really find them?
It all comes down to personality
The recruitment process needs to extend far beyond the skillset of diary management, stakeholder liaison and travel booking. It’s so difficult to determine from a resume and a brief discussion if there’s that mindset connection between your leader and their EA.
Grill the executive on what they truly want (and don’t want)
This can be challenging on several fronts:
- your leader possibly hasn’t thought about it much
- they may find it difficult to articulate their true expectations (“get someone good” may be all the brief you can expect)
- your leader has limited availability to discuss it due to a busy schedule
- your leader doesn’t want to engage in the process (but expects a brilliant candidate nonetheless)
If possible, take time to explain the ROI of defining the desirable characteristics upfront. By demonstrating the benefit, you’re more likely to get support for the process.
You need these questions answered:
- what level of industry experience matters?
- should the EA be a strategic partner/2IC in the business or a simple transactional implementor?
- to what extent do they mind a level of proactive suggestions from the EA?
A good way to frame these questions is to create potential scenarios for your executive.
- How would you feel if your EA stopped you mid-sentence and told you there’s a better way to do things?
- How would you react if your EA took over the management an important responsibility, freeing you up to concentrate your skills elsewhere?
- How would you choose from an EA with a great attitude but no industry experience or an EA with extensive experience but a lacklustre attitude?
- What role do you see your EA taking in meetings? Notes and agenda, or stepping in with strategic consults?
- What are things an EA could do that would delight you most?
- Conversely, what are the things an EA could do that would frustrate you the most?
- How often do you want to communicate with your EA and what are your preferred channels of communication?
- If your EA was feeling nervous or upset, how would you respond?
By asking questions like this, you are prompting the executive to think about what they truly need. In addition, it’s important to determine the desirable personality traits.
Everyone wants the EA to be organised, efficient and courteous
So, let’s go beyond that. Consider as much as possible the essential personality traits you are seeking. How talkative are they? How do they cope in a crisis? How well do they take direction? How fast do they learn new skills? Do they need to passionately believe in a cause? Do they need to work overtime during busy periods? You cannot drill down in this area enough, so make it as detailed as possible. (It’s a similar approach to how marketers define their target audience, by giving them a name, a life, a personality, problems, dreams and fears.)
The recruitment process
Once you’ve prepared your ideal candidate, then it’s time to recruit. By having a crystal clear vision in your mind, you’ll find it much easier to select a shortlist based on the requirements.
When it comes to the final selection amongst the top-ranking candidates, many HR managers make the mistake of opting for just one formal interview. In my experience, following up with a second informal coffee chat is vital to the process. By relaxing a little with both candidate and leader, the true personality is more likely to shine through.
Need help recruiting your EA for your CEO or C-suite executive?
Talk to the experts at Altitude EA. We can find your high performing EAs with the ideal personality fit for your demanding leader. Call Anastasia on 0421 16 55 96 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.