What Key Metrics Should You Track for Your Executive Search?

Posted by The Bowdoin Group on February 16th, 2021


Person on laptop analyzing key metrics to track

Metrics are essential to track throughout your executive search process. Monitoring key numbers ensures that the right candidate is found fast, but it also measures, more transparently, whether or not your search partner is stacking the odds in your favor. 

Here are the metrics The Bowdoin Group recommends hiring teams focus on: 

  • The “Milestone”
  • Candidate Response Rate
  • Candidate Engagement Rate 
  • Elimination Reason Trends
  • Total Days to Close

#1 The “Milestone”: The Milestone metric is met when three to five vetted candidates are discovered within the first 45 days of the search.

Most search firms call this a slate of candidates, but Bowdoin refers to it as the milestone metric. If this major milestone is missed, the likelihood of successfully finding a candidate drastically decreases.

Kara Barr, Vice President of Delivery at The Bowdoin Group explains that one candidate (even a strong one) is not relevant. Three to five vetted and sourced candidates are necessary so that they may be measured against one another. Barr explains, “The stage at which you have a true comparison of candidates to hire is what really matters.” 

As a measurable reference point, 79% of candidates placed through Bowdoin’s executive search efforts are found within the first 30 days of the search. 

#2 Candidate Response Rate: Candidate Response Rate is a metric that tracks the percentage of responses received from targeted candidates.

Bowdoin expects to receive a candidate response rate of 50%. Anything lower than 30% is in the danger zone and means something isn’t quite right. 

If these response percentages aren’t hitting the mark, check the outreach strategy. Perhaps, for example, not enough candidates are being reached and, even more likely, they aren’t the right candidates. 

While the search firm could be to blame, double back and look at how your organization’s story is being told. Is it compelling and consistent? Is it accurate? If you are unable to reveal your company’s name with candidates at this early stage, consider sharing more information around growth opportunities, company culture, diversity, and recent awards that might make potential candidates more interested. And make absolutely sure that your company’s message is clear and thoroughly understood by your executive search team. Have them pitch you to be certain they have it right! 

#3 Candidate Engagement Rate: The Candidate Engagement Rate metric measures how candidates remain engaged throughout the search process. 

Bowdoin thinks of the search process as a funnel. You’re going to lose some candidates along the way as the funnel narrows, but the higher the percentages, the better and stronger your final candidate pool. 

Metrics to watch here include the number of candidates…

  • Contacted
  • Pitched on your organization and the available role 
  • Screened by the search firm
  • Submitted to your organization
  • Interviewed

Take careful note of where in the process candidates may eliminate themselves. This metric highlights potential areas of opportunity to improve the process, which brings us to…

#4 Elimination Reason Trends: This metric tracks any and all reasons a candidate might pass on an opportunity. It looks at trends over time to identify patterns and areas of opportunity. 

Candidates may not work out for any number of reasons, most notably due to compensation, contentment in their current role, a recent job change, a signed non-compete agreement, or a simple lack of interest. 

Pay careful attention to these metrics so you may begin to track trends to understand what the market dictates. If there is an abundance of elimination reasons related to compensation, for example, that becomes a clear indicator that there is misalignment between the seniority/level of the role and the expectations of the individual who will fill it.

#5 Number of Days to Close: A critical key metric in executive search, the number of days to close tracks the total number of days from initial candidate outreach to final placement.

Search firms can and should be held responsible for a great deal of the executive search process, however keep in mind that once that 45-day milestone metric has been reached, the rest may fall to the company. Difficulty scheduling, continued changes to the interview process, and waiting to see what else may come up are all reasons companies may delay the timelines. 

In our experience, 90 days to close is the average, although the fewer days to close the better for the hiring team, organization, and the candidate. If the hiring organization has a slate of three to five vetted candidates at day 45, this leaves them another 45 days to close the deal. 

How to Make the Metrics Work for Your Hiring Strategy?

If you can speed up the days to close, do it! It saves time, money, and extra work. If the hiring process is taking longer than anticipated, Barr suggests “challenging yourself, your internal team, and your search partner.” Hacking the metrics begins with self-reflection. 

  • Do not waver on your must- vs. nice-to-haves. Be decisive on what you need and clearly share that information with everyone involved in the search process. If all must-haves are not met, the candidate should never make it beyond the first stage of the funnel. If you waiver on a “must-have,” it indicates it was probably a “nice-to-have.” Are you trying to replace the person who walked out the door, or who that person was when they originally took the position? And finally, if you’re searching for a unicorn, you’ll need to reset expectations.
  • Proactively set up your interview process and stay true to it. If it’s a panel, great! If it’s three one-on-ones, excellent! Be consistent because it saves time. Scheduling last-minute or unforeseen meetings takes time and reflects poorly on you to candidates.
    • Manage expectations. For example, if you’re expecting that half your vetted candidate slate is diverse yet the diversity in your industry for this role is a small portion of the population, it’s going to take longer. Be aware of this and work with a search partner who will help you account for it.
  • Consider time vs. person and the tradeoffs therein. It will take more time, for example, to discover the perfect add to your company’s culture than it might to find a candidate who can perform one specialty. Is it more important to have the perfect person in the role, regardless of how long it takes, or to fill the role before it is vacant for too long? Could you have trained a good candidate faster than it takes to find the perfect candidate who already knows the specialty? Know what matters most to you and your team and search accordingly.
  • Be real about your company’s reputation and digital presence. Have a clear and transparent understanding of your company’s reputation and digital presence. If your Glassdoor reviews are a mess, your candidates know it, so we recommend discussing your awareness and plan for improvement.
  • Have clear alignment on your company story and culture between you and your search partner and you and your team. Be sure that everyone is telling the same story and avoid a bait and switch of any kind. 

Executive searches are an exciting step in your growth, but it’s critical to pay careful attention to the metrics you should track to ensure success. Be picky about getting what you need from a search partner. Be clear and consistent and work to strengthen your internal team to get it right. 

Next steps: Shortening the search cycle is worth it for your company’s ROI. Do you know the multiplier effect of a great executive hire?

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