puzzle-leadership-good-fit.pngChances are, you’re familiar with the common indicators that can imply a lower-level candidate may not be the best hire — unexplained periods of unemployment, for example, or a number of references who don’t have anything good to say about the person.

The warning signs for candidates you’re considering for leadership roles,  however, may be much less apparent.

Only one in 10 people actually possess the talent to successfully manage employees, according to research from Gallup — which also found companies fail to choose the right person for the job an astounding 82 percent of the time.

HR professionals are often responsible, at the very least, for the initial stages of identifying and screening general management- and executive-level candidates.

To ensure you’re finding the best fit, consider looking for the following three elements when trying to fill the next leadership role within your organization:

The ability to provide concrete examples

The importance of behavioral-based interview questions can’t be overstated. Requesting executive-level and other candidates run through past experiences to show how they handled situations, instead of just having them recap their resume, makes for a much more thorough interview — and can reveal whether or not the person has any of the traits the McQuaig Institute identified as being present in effective leaders.

The institute’s 2016 global recruitment survey found HR professionals ranked the ability to empower others as the top element. Being able to build trust and be a strategic thinker were ranked second and third, with nearly 53 percent of HR professionals noting their importance. Thirty-five percent felt being able to embrace change was key.

Significant outside experience

Strategy& data has shown the number of companies that have appointed an outsider as their new CEO has increased in the past decade. If you don’t have a leadership development program, or your organization’s program hasn’t yet yielded a successor for a position, considering external candidates may be a better option than trying to force an internal candidate into a new leadership role the person isn’t prepared for.

An interest in philanthropy

While a lack of volunteer work shouldn’t be an automatic deal breaker, experience in that area can indicate a person may be particularly suited to be in charge. Ninety-two percent of business professionals who influenced hiring at their organization said they felt volunteering was an effective way to improve leadership skills in a 2016 survey from Deloitte; 80 percent said they felt active volunteers move more easily into leadership roles. Skills-based volunteering, in particular, can help advance communication skills and assist in developing a strong sense of character, according to the survey.


Although external candidates may prove to be the best choice in some circumstances, a leadership development program is still an extremely worthwhile endeavor — it can be a beneficial way for companies to foster internal talent and build a strong succession plan to fill key vacancies in the future.

Find out more about how HR professionals are establishing and using leadership development programs and succession plans in these pieces on expecting the unexpected, HR’s biggest succession planning challenge and increasing your succession intelligence IQ.

For additional information on recruitment approaches for senior level employees, view our blog posts on why hiring the right manager is important, external CEO candidate recruitment and recruiting executive-level hires the right way.