How to Identify The Strategic Candidate

The elevation of the human resources function to business partner status has increased the demand for people skilled at identifying gaps and delivering impactful human capital solutions. The days of the personnel people police compliance only HR professional are waning as Boards of Directors and Owners in businesses of all types continue to recognize that the people working within the enterprise can make or break you.

I mention the human resources function because my executive search practice is focused solely in that space but HR is not alone in this. Recruiters focused on other functional leadership roles will without doubt attest to the fact that their savvy clients also require candidates with the ability to think and act strategically.

Since most Fortune 500 companies and enlightened smaller enterprises are demanding strategically proficient professionals, it is my business to find those people. Which begs the question: How can one tell whether or not a candidate has strategic capabilities?

The accomplishment focused resume is a good place to start but a resume alone doesn't answer the question. To be strategic a resume is not just listing accomplishments, it's connecting the accomplishment to the benefit the company enjoyed as a result. And when that is coupled with measurable outcomes (metrics) you've got the triple crown. (Ok, I'm writing this as I watch The Preakness and couldn't resist that reference.)

But what about candidates who aren't representing themselves well on their resumes? (And let's face it, the majority fall into this group.) Or what if I don't have a resume for a passive candidate? And since some people have professionally written resumes, even if the resume reads strategically I still need to confirm my first impression. So I 'm left with making a determination during an initial conversation.

We all know recruiting is as much art as science and determining strategic capability is largely subjective (although it can be substantiated through reference checks). That said, one of the best ways I've found to get at the heart of the matter is to ask about the candidate's top 3 accomplishments. What s/he focuses on in answer to this question is the "tell".

If someone says his top three accomplishments are well honed compliance skills, the ability to relate well to people at all levels and his skills at writing employee handbooks. He doesn't get it.

On the other hand if he gives answers that highlight where he recognized a situation that was causing employees to pull their ores in different directions or one in which the company was spending too much money for a less than optimal outcome. If he developed then implemented a solution to address that situation and he understands how that impacted the organization to the point of being able to measure the outcome. I've found a strategic professional.

The scenarios presented above are obvious Yes or No situations. Most candidates will fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two. And it should be noted a candidate can be strategic regardless of the level of experience the person has. I'm just as excited about adding a strategic up and comer to my network as I am when I encounter a strategic senior level leadership candidate. After all, those up and comers are future leaders. So when I surface a candidate who is an obvious Yes, it makes my day.

How do you determine whether or not a candidate is strategically proficient?

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Comment by Peter Fernee on May 30, 2013 at 10:59pm

I am not sure I can answer this question as a recuiter but as a candidate I think that if you are able to present yourself in person as part of your application you will be able to outline the nuances that identify you as a strategic thinker.


I think video linked in applications are part of the answer to shortlisting more accurately.  See my CV


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