A Founder’s Guide to Hiring an Exceptional Executive Team

Use this advice to streamline your search for the best of the best.

Written by Natalie Ryan
Published on Oct. 04, 2022
A Founder’s Guide to Hiring an Exceptional Executive Team
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At SPMB Executive Search, we partner with founders and entrepreneurs at venture capital and growth-equity backed startups who might not have in-depth experience recruiting and hiring talent at the executive level. As expected, these founders are hungry to acquire experienced leaders to assist them in building their organization, executing on business objectives, and hitting revenue goals. These executive candidates will have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be leveraged to propel a company to the next level of growth. Whatever companies win the talent war, starting at the executive level, will have the biggest success stories…period. Because of these leaders’ value-add to a business, the competition for their attention is steep and they’ll require a lot of persuasion that your company is where they want to land next. 

My job as a Partner and executive recruiter is to coach and guide my clients on how to put their best foot forward while running a top notch recruiting process to land the best leadership talent. So how do you get an exceptional executive excited to join your startup?

Here are my top five tips for winning over your ideal executive hire during the interview process:

5 Tips for Founders Hiring Their Executive Teams

  1. Define your interview process in advance.
  2. Add a personal touch to the recruiting process.
  3. Leverage your investors for the close.
  4. Leave the offer negotiation to a third party.
  5. Consider getting expert hiring help.


1. Define Your Interview Process in Advance

Design an intentional, streamlined interview process and panel well before spending time with candidates. Plan out who will be on the interview panel and within that group, who will be responsible for assessing the different areas and skill sets necessary for the role. 

Ensure that the interview questions are coordinated with the team or, at minimum, the key areas you’ll be probing into are outlined and shared with the other interviewers in advance. It can detract from the candidate experience when an executive hears and has to answer the same interview questions over and over again; it can make the company appear disorganized and disconnected. Worst of all, it’s also detrimental to the actual assessment process.

Executives will be looking for strong signals of the team’s ability to attract and recruit top talent and that can be showcased during their own interview process by adding these steps.  

More From Natalie Ryan on Built In’s Expert Contributors Network8 Interview Questions to Ask to Avoid Joining a Doomed Tech Startup


2. Add a Personal Touch to the Recruiting Process

My most successful and quickest searches have been with founders/CEOs who have agreed to give extra attention to our candidates in process. They also understand that as much as they are interviewing these candidates for the job, it’s a two-way street and they need to sell the opportunity. The interview process is the perfect time to start building a relationship with a future hire before they join the company. 

Use 15-30 minutes of your first interview to share who you are, your vision for the role and the company, and how they would fit into that vision. At the end of the discussion, leave time for their questions and then (if you have a strong first impression), share your cell phone number and/or email address and welcome them to follow up with any additional questions or thoughts. 

If you have a front runner or two in the process, you can send a quick text or give a call to that candidate to wish them luck or share a few insights on the next stages of the interview process. 

As you start to zero-in on your finalists, I highly recommend that you make the time to get to know them in a less formal environment. This could be an in-person meeting, sharing a meal together or a casual virtual meeting where you can both ask each other more informal questions and get to know one another personally. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this hire so it’s helpful when you know (and hopefully like) each other as human beings.   


3. Leverage Your Investors for the Close

Your investors are your number-one cheerleaders, and they want to be a part of your success. Use them to your advantage and have them spend time with your finalists. They can be a powerful tool in the interview process to help alleviate concerns an executive might have in joining your business. 

It’s a positive opportunity for executive candidates too as they’ll be interested to learn why they invested in the business and what support they are giving to the company. For example:

  • Do your investors have an incredible track record of investing in A+ companies with strong exits? 
  • Will they be there to support the business in difficult times from a financial perspective? 
  • Will they connect the business with advisors and make introductions with potential customers? 
  • Are they helping the business in some lower level recruiting efforts? 

If the answer is ‘yes’ in any of these areas, these are huge selling points for executives, and it showcases some of the resilience built into the business. 

I recommend that my clients add a meeting with a board member/investor as the final or second to final step in the interview process to help assess and close your finalist/s. As a founder/CEO, a stamp of approval from the investors is piece of mind that you are making the right decision on the hire and can help in the closing process. 

More From Natalie Ryan on Built In’s Expert Contributors NetworkAre You Really Ready to Become an Executive?


4. Leave the Offer Negotiation to a Third Party

The negotiation process can get emotional and come off the rails without an intermediary. Leverage your recruiter or whoever has been driving the interview process to gather compensation expectations early in the process and run the negotiation process so there are no surprises or heated debates at the offer stage. 

When putting together an executive package, you’ll need to consider their “leave-behind”: any money that they might be leaving on the table to join your business; the start date based on equity and/or bonus payouts; what “meaningful equity” means for them; and other things like relocation packages or funds allocated for a workspace option near their home.  

There are always challenges or complexities to work through on an executive compensation offer package and candidates want those to be smoothed out with the recruiter so they can focus on the big stuff with the hiring manager/CEO. 

As the founder/CEO, it’s best if you are the final closer once the small details are worked out. It, hopefully, only entails you getting on the phone to receive your finalist’s verbal “yes!”


5. Consider Getting Expert Hiring Help

If you are watching your company’s cash flow, it can be tempting to attempt to run an executive search by yourself. Recruiting isn’t rocket science but, unfortunately, when you don’t have the resources, time, energy, or candidate network to support your efforts, you can find your search back at square one months down the line. This is a costly mistake for an organization as every delay in getting the right leader in the door hinders the ability to achieve revenue goals and overall success of the business. 

We’ve taken over and successfully completed countless searches that failed to get off the ground by internal recruiting efforts. The competition for top talent is fierce and it’s a full time job to engage, attract, and close the best executive candidates. Using an executive search firm or headhunter might be the most cost-efficient and time-saving way to find your next C-suite hire.

As everyone is aware, we are facing uncertain market dynamics and because of this, the need for executive talent is more important than ever. Having a solid, seasoned executive team in place will be the difference between a successful exit and failure to launch.

So, to build out your own exceptional executive team to withstand whatever market shifts may come, remember to: design your executive interview structure and panel with care; leverage specialists for a smooth, tight interview process and offer negotiation; and don’t be afraid to pull in your investors for the close! These simple changes in your search process can make a huge impact on the quality of your executive team and overall business.

More Advice on Building Great Teams on Built In’s Expert Contributors NetworkHow to Build Your Braintrust

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