The biggest obstacle to hiring great sales talent? It might be your CEO

It’s understandable that many CEOs – especially those at growth-stage companies – want to be hands-on when it comes to evaluating potential new hires but this approach typically does more harm than good.

June 10, 2019


CEOs are notoriously over-scheduled – and often something has to give. My advice: Cut the interviews with sales candidates.

While it’s understandable that many CEOs – especially those at growth-stage companies – want to be hands-on when it comes to evaluating and speaking with individuals who will be on the front lines of driving growth, this approach typically does more harm than good.

Case in point: Recently I helped place a mid-level sales director at a growing tech company. We found a terrific candidate who met all the requirements (and then some) and was a great cultural fit. The candidate went through five rounds of interviews over several weeks (we will talk about this in another blog post), ultimately gaining the full support and sponsorship of the SVP of sales. Sounds like a lock, right?

The final interview was with the CEO, who dismissed the candidate in 15 minutes over a single sales target-related number on the resume, which the CEO thought was low. Mind you, that number had been thoroughly discussed in all five rounds of interviews. But the CEO took one look and it was over … and in 15 minutes unraveled weeks of work courting this candidate, displayed complete lack of trust for the SVP of sales and significantly damaged the candidate experience.

It may sound extreme, but as the head of a search agency that has built out numerous sales teams, I have seen this too many times. CEOs want to be part of the interview process and want the final say, but they do not have the capacity to focus on the candidate experience, which is essential in the hiring process. Even with the best intentions, what they typically do is throw a wrench in things – with the effects varying from holding up a potential hire due to time constraints to damaging their company’s reputation.

At a time when demand for good sales candidates outstrips supply, companies cannot afford to risk the candidate experience. Candidates who feel disrespected or resentful about how they were treated can easily – and with likelihood – turn to Glassdoor and other social platforms and, with a few strokes of a keyboard, negatively influence how everyone they know (and many they do not) feel about your company. So in more cases than not, CEOs being involved in the interviewing process for sales is not an advisable model.

Is all this to say that I believe CEOs should never conduct an interview with a potential employee? Of course not. There are always times when a CEO’s involvement is necessary or strategic to the business, notably:

  • When the CEO can be the ace in the hole. The chances of closing a high-value candidate can be greatly improved with the CEO’s personal involvement, demonstrating a commitment to the candidate.
  • When the candidate will be reporting to the CEO or when the organization has yet to build a trusted layer of senior management. This is fairly obvious but is still easy to misstep.
  • When the CEO is the final step to check for a soft skill like “grit” or “hunger,” or is needed to help sell the company’s vision.  In this case, the objective of the meeting should be defined both to the candidate and the CEO. Ideally the CEO does not even get a copy of the resume but rather an overview from the CEO’s trusted hiring manager or recruitment leader.  A great example of a CEO who currently does this is Chieh Huang at Boxed.

Chris Gannon is the founder of Captivate Talent, a boutique recruitment and consulting firm. Contact Chris to understand how you can optimize the interview experience and build the best candidate experience possible.

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