Is your Executive Candidate Experience killing your company brand?

The executive candidate experience needs special attention.  We may think that every candidate needs special attention, but the fact of the matter is, these candidates ARE different and can kill your recruiting brand.   

I recently wrote HERE that one Nasty way to get VIP eyeballs on your credentials is to send your resume and cover letter to two specific positions within the company you are interested in.  Of course these positions are NOT in HR.

The first is the head of the department you are interested in.  If you are interested in a marketing position then send your packet to the VP of Marketing and / or the CMO.  This way you bypass the gatekeeper in HR who may or may not know how to recognize an industry specific skillset and the chances are very high that your resume will be looked at by the decision maker.  If they like what they see, they have the authority to skip HR and call you directly.  Either way, you just got your name “on the list”.

The second person is the CEO.  The CEO generally will not have time to deal with every Tom, Dick and Jane that applies and will have his or her assistant forward the resume and cover letter to HR.  HR, not knowing if this is a stranger off the street or nephew of the CEO will usually treat your documentation with kid gloves.  Only a fool would throw a resume hot from the CEO’s office in the to do pile with every other Johnny applicant.

Well, my theory was just shot to doo doo over the weekend.  I have a friend that is a C-level candidate and just went through a bitter executive candidate experience.  Of course, being in marketing she is super connected, and in a small town like Seattle, is not someone you want pissing on your brand (don't worry, she is a professional).

She did everything right.  She heard about a position and leveraged her network to find a connection.  Because she is a woman of influence and style, her network delivered an introduction directly to the CEO of the hiring company.  The CEO quickly responded back to our candidate and explained that her resume would be forwarded to the VP of HR.  (Just like Nasty clockwork).  Our applicant follows up with the VP of HR and is told that her documents have been passed to the recruiter in charge of hiring for marketing.  Shortly afterwards, our applicant receives a standard email rejection letter.

Thank you for your interest in position X.   

Based upon a review of your resume and/or responses to a screening questionnaire . . . . , we have decided to pursue other candidates who more closely meet our criteria for this position. 
Your profile remains in our database . . .blah blabh blah. . . 

Please remember that you can log in to view your status on for a number of reasons positions you have applied to, set up search agents, and review/apply to additional openings at

Our candidate may truly not been qualified and I get that.  The above is all standard language, and I use it myself on a regular basis.  For a number of reasons, the exception to this rule is when I am recruiting for a VP or C-level candidate:

  1. I work in a large metropolitan sized city, but by network standards, this town is small and everyone knows everyone.  Every candidate experience matters, but the executive candidate experience really matters.
  2. VP’s and C levels have the most experience, they have the largest influence and of course they have the largest networks.  This makes sense because after doing something for 15-20 years you would have some level of expertise as well.  I don’t want to piss off this level of influence.
  3. These openings are not positions that everyone and their dog will apply for.  There are not 100's of candidates.  At this level, candidates are only applying for positions that closely match their background and their career goals.  As much as we would like to think that we all follow this philosophy, we don’t.  How many of us have applied for a position with the “what the hell do I have to lose attitude”.  This generally doesn’t happen at this level because these folks have reputations and personal brands to protect.
  4. At this level, candidates are usually industry focused.  They are not applying to be the VP of Marketing in pharma one week and then retail the next.  They have figured out what size company, what industry, and what type of CEO they like to report to.  They know their sweet spot and their colleagues work in the same sweet spot.

Just like the Geneva Convention states that Officers will be treated differently than the enlisted ranks, I absolutely treat executives differently.  Whether they are grey hairs in a suit or are wearing shorts and flip flops, these people have influence, they have a voice, and they have Klout.   Face it, we all treat these VIPs a little differently.

Whether the company received 10 applicants or 50, I don’t think that sending an auto response is the way to decline these folks.  A quick phone call is much more professional and even leaving a message is better than an auto response.

“Suzy VP, I just wanted to reach out and let you know that we did receive your resume and as you can imagine interest from a number of others.  At this point in time, we are moving ahead with a few candidates whose background more closely matches our needs.  We do appreciate your interest in Acme Publishing, please feel free to call me if you have any questions.”

You can always go the flattery route and let them know they are “too senior for the role.”  Everyone wants to report back to their circle of influence that the company they applied to just called them up to let them know they were too senior.  (more PR for your position and just an old fashioned Nasty move)

Most of these candidates WILL call back and more importantly, and handle the declination with grace and style.  They are professionals and if they are smart (they didn’t get to this level because they are dummies) will do the following:

Engage with the recruiter and ask to find out a little bit more about the position because they may know someone that will be a better fit.

With bullet number 4 above in mind, I want this kind of engagement.  Yes, I want that call.  These candidates belong to associations, professional groups, and our final hire will probably be in our declined candidates Linkedin or personal network.  Of course, I will let the candidate know that I will keep my radar up for positions that more closely match their career goals and will ask them if they know someone that may more closely match our needs.  I will even throw in a bottle of Blue Label if the referral is ultimately hired. (for those of you negative Nellies out there that are wondering about retained search, I can take that cost out of the retained recruiters fee.)  You scratch my back, I will scratch yours and everyone wins.

I know this is what I do and in most camps I am considered a mannequin sitting on some comedians lap.

Back to our Heroine Crime Fighters executive candidate experience, because the way she was treated was a crime. . .

We have a candidate that leveraged their network to get to the CEO (and because there is an unwritten Geneva code among C levels she heard back from the CEO)

  • The last thing our crime fighter is expecting is an auto responder-email explaining: “in regards to position number MVP 2445 don’t call us, we will call you”.
  • Our crime fighter doesn’t want to report back to the guy that made the initial introduction to the CEO that “I heard back from Acme, I got a generic email declination”.  Bad JuJu, bad PR.  Everyone is embarrassed, everyone feels bad and the company brand isn't doing well.
  • If there is a better fitting position in the future for our crime fighter, there is going to be a bitter taste in her mouth from this experience.  This is an executive candidate experience to be remembered.
  • As the recruiter on the position, I look forward to building the company’s network (and yes the personal network as well) and reach with these influential allies.

I may be old school, but picking up the phone and extending a little professional courtesy can go a long way with the executive candidate experience.  Anything less is short sighted.

See you at the after party,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball".

Views: 493

Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on August 29, 2012 at 4:33pm

About the only part of your article that I agree with is the auto reply to the candidate.  Very bad manners and certainly a juvenile step.  However, all your other advice to C-Level and Officer level candidates is pretty terrible.  If the CMO or the VP of Marketing are so inclined to be a recruiter, then they would have that job.  The reason HR and the recruiter are the gatekeepers during the search is to manage the entire process (and there are a lot of moving parts to any search).  I've been at this a very long time in the same town that you do business in,  and I can tell you this, every hiring manager and every employee of every company that I have worked for sends everyone back through me during a search. They are not at liberty to do my job, as I'm not at liberty to do theirs.  And if you think most HR professionals don't have the acumen to decipher who has the skills for the job and who doesn't, therefore an executive at a company has to make that decision, then you're thinking is very upside down. 


If an officer of my company has a referral or passes along a resume to me, I will certainly review it against the candidate pool to determine if they're what we're looking for.  If they are, they're in the process.  If they're not, then they get a personlized regret.  Please don't assume that all HR professionals are not capable of identifying and then treating a higher level candidate with due respect.  At the end of the day, regardless of the level of the position, everyone gets treated the same because they are the same.  The only difference is the size of the paycheck.  If everyone is treated with manners regardless if they fit a role or not, that is employment branding and a candidate can't really hurt that if we're doing our job well.  I belive 99% of us do our jobs well.  There's always that 1% who don't and perhaps that is who you're really targeting your message to.  Try again please!

Comment by HRNasty on August 29, 2012 at 9:12pm


Appreciate the feedback.  I should clarify.  My usual angle for writing a blog post is to help candidates navigate the interview process and to help them get a job.  I usually don't write from the recruiters perspective.  When I first read your response, I wondered what I had read, because based on your response, that wasn't my intent.  

I am in HR, I do recruit, so I also don't appreciate it when an VP or C level person starts recruiting and running the process, I was providing that color for background only.  

The main point of this post was that hearing this experience reminded me of what it looks like from a candidates perspective.  And as an HR person, what we can do to leverage these sr. people vs. giving ANYONE despite their experience level a negative experience.  This candidates experience was a negative one and I it reinforced to me how important these experiences are.  

Hope this helps clarify,


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on August 30, 2012 at 9:41am
I get Peter's point but have to agree with you here, Nasty- especially in the Seattle context. What a ridiculously small town for such a large metro area. Any employee referral deserves a personalized email at the very least. Rookie move on the recruiter's part IMO.


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