I’ve been talking with fellow talent professionals, recruiters, and private equity investors about the art and science of assessing senior level talent. It boils down to eight key methods. Perhaps one of two of those below will be helpful for you.

If you are making a critical decision about a senior position, you may want to use nearly all of the methods here. For a junior hire, or if you’re time-constrained, perhaps only two or three.


  • Pinpoint what matters most. Do the hard work to determine what capabilities and skills matter most. Get the job description right, and focus on the business challenges ahead for the role as clearly as possible. This isn’t rocket science, but many people skip this or don’t take enough time on it, and make the wrong hire. Focus on the skills and behaviors needed to be successful in the role, not experiences or accomplishments. (Side benefit is you are more likely to hire up and comers by focusing on skills, not resume stuff.)
  • Do the competency interview. Don’t skip this important step. Gather detailed examples (preferably 2-3 examples per critical “must have”) to ensure the candidate has what it takes to be successful. (Here’s a good article with more on this critical technique.)
  • Do a career review.  Dig into what the person has done, and how, in as much detail as possible. Allow a full hour, maybe even 90 minutes, to cover the central roles and accomplishments in a person’s career get stripped of as much hyperbole and spin as possible. It’s always nice when they can demonstrate some humility and lessons learned.
  • Listen to your gut, and watch body language. I like to keep a running set of notes about what I’m feeling and sensing during an interview or conversation. What emotion are they radiating? What’s their posture, and what do you conclude from it? Of course, this is raw data, and you can’t always trust it. But it is important and valuable.
  • Talk to references. If you have the time, you can do phone interviews with people who know the individual well and have worked with them. Open ended questions work best: What do you most appreciate about X? What did they accomplish, and how? Dig deeper, and be curious If the references don’t sound like the person you met.
  • Put them “in the role” and have them do some work. If you can put the person in an invented situation that resembles the real life work issues they will encounter (angry clients? Demanding board members?), you can get a high degree of accuracy. Give them a role to play, or a piece of work to do. It’s good for the candidate, too, as they know more about what to expect in the role.
  • Personality assessments. The most popular is the Hogan suite – takes an hour to complete the online questions, costs about $400, but reliable. What you get from a personality assessment is a way in to understanding what makes this person tick. The best way to use it is as a conversation starter with the executive as part of one of your interviews. What do they agree and disagree with? What does this help to explain about them?
  • Cognitive assessments.  The CCAT and the Watson-Glaser are good 30- to 45-minute tests of problem solving and critical thinking-It’s easy and cheap to administer. Money well spent when you need to confirm that, say, a senior strategy candidate has vital intellectual horsepower!

Whew. It’s a big list. You don’t have to do it all. But when you triangulate across multiple sources of input, net result is a more complete and reliable picture of your candidate, so you can make confident decisions.

I look forward to hearing about what you find works for you.