Not too long ago, I asked the CEO of a major business if she thought creativity was an important part of the skill set required of a successful communications professional. Absolutely, she said.
She had recently hired a senior communications executive and I asked if, thinking back, she looked for evidence of strong creativity.
“Now that you mention it,” she replied, “not really.”
What we want and need in our hires and what we interview for are often two different things. No one likes to admit this, but it happens all the time. The principal catalyst for this disconnect is the volume of work stacking up for the new hire, kind of like planes circling O'Hare waiting to land.
When many executives screen candidates, the focus, intentionally or not, often skews to the tasks at hand. This is especially true when making mid-level hires. Does this person know the business? Can he or she write well? Will they get along with others? Do they know key media? Digital influencers? Etc.
All reasonable questions, but when hiring mid-level pros, all of whom we want to take real responsibility, grow, and become leaders, do we really screen for attributes that will be critical to their long-term success?
The most common criticism I hear from senior business executives is that communications staffers are often too tactical and not capable of managing their time in order to provide thoughtful, proactive strategic guidance.
How do you screen for that?
For starters, I'd look at self-confidence. Is your candidate comfortable enough in his or her own skin to form opinions and diplomatically assert those to others, including more senior executives?
Is your candidate smart? Raise your standard of intellectual contribution. Look at the academic and professional backgrounds of your internal clients – their pedigrees, schools, degrees, positions of responsibility. Your candidate may not match up directly, but it sure would be good to get close.
Is your candidate really intellectually curious? Does he or she read a lot? Books, papers, and so on. Online, offline doesn't matter. Just make sure to probe for intellectual curiosity.
Have they been trusted advisers? You don't have to be interviewing for the CCO job to have experience being a trusted adviser. Probe for such experience. Examine the adviser role when checking references. Dig deep.
There's much more, but you get the idea. Step back, really evaluate the attributes you want to see in addition to the handling of the day-to-day tasks, and then actively search for those. You'll be very happy you did.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.