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How to avoid the single biggest obstacle in recruiting executives

Tsen Wharton, founder of OpusPro

Executive recruiters hunting for the best possible talent will know the challenges associated with attracting great passive candidates who are seemingly happy in their current role and have their heads down.

Once you do have them engaged in a meaningful conversation you then face the challenge of having them craft a tailored CV/resume fit to present to your client. In these early stages the A grade passive candidate may well be reluctant to invest much of their precious time to produce a current and tailored CV. They would likely be writing it from scratch since they are not looking for a job.

I’ve recently been working my way through a fantastic book on executive search and one tactic in relation to this challenge jumped out as a gem I wanted to share.

Full credit to authors and leading practitioners, David Perry and Mark Haluska, of Perry Martel for what I’m about to share – I’ll briefly summarise this strategy for you and would certainly recommend that for more wisdom you seek out the book Hiring Greatness. There’s a lot to be learned from these search professionals who, between them, have completed over 1800 search projects, maintaining a 99.97% success rate, and negotiating more than $380m in salaries.

How DO you avoid the single biggest obstacle in recruiting executives and bringing them forward in a timely manner?

Introducing the ‘Confidential Candidate Brief’ (CCB).

Here’s a brief extract from Perry and Haluska’s book explaining exactly what the CCB is:

‘Essentially, what the CCB does is help screen the “I haven’t got the time to write a resume this week” executives into the search almost effortlessly. Instead of letting the resume issue hold him back, Mark created a form he sent to the people he was most interested in, allowing them to answer a few questions and e-mail it back to him. The CCB is comprised of a dozen or so questions that hit on the hot buttons or issues most critical to the employer’s search requirement.’

Perry Martel would introduce the CCB to the prospective candidate at the end of their first phone call.  The candidates who become qualified and interested prospects are invited to complete a CCB and it is presented as tool to replace their need to create a tailored CV/resume. Completing the form typically takes no more than a half hour and the end result is a detailed account of the potential candidate’s skills and experience as they relate to the exact position you’re looking to fill.  Genius!

What does the CCB look like?

There is a comprehensive example template at the back of Perry and Haluska’s book and I’ve provided a brief overview below.

The CCB itself can simply be a word doc and your opening line would be to introduce the purpose of this form to the candidate (bear in mind you have already paved the way by informing the candidate of next steps when you concluded that first call).

Here’s an example of Perry and Haluska’s opening paragraph:

‘The purpose of this Brief is to gather preliminary information and then to match your requirements with the needs of our client regarding the above position. This document is a critical part of the selection and preparation process.’

They continue by explaining exactly what the candidate is required to do in regards completing and returning the document.

You can then close the introduction paragraphs with any references to setting expectations and highlighting the professionalism by which your firm will be dealing with the introduction.

What questions are asked in the CCB?

The form starts by capturing current contact and employment details.

The rest of the form will then be completely dependent on the role itself. It goes without saying that the precursor to this step is investing time with your client to capture an accurate job description and person specification. You will then know all the hot buttons on which to base your questions.

Perry’s example template includes 17 role specific questions but of course you decide the type and number that works for you. Below are a few generic examples inspired by those provided in Hiring Greatness.

Please tell me about your experience in relation to (role specific skill XYZ). Are you confident in your ability to (fill in the blank)? Give an example of (relevant application of skill) and the subsequent impact it had to your company.


How would you best describe your leadership style? Explain how your style is perceived by your boss, peers, and subordinates. What would you do to improve your management acumen? 


Describe what you believe to be your two most recent major professional accomplishments relative to this position profile.


In addition to role specific questions you can use this form to include questions on why they are interested to explore the opportunity, counter-offer and relocation.

Be sure to close the form by thanking the candidate for their time and explaining what will happen next.


So, I’ve highlighted a technique you can deploy today that creates a win-win-win scenario: the candidate has the opportunity to put their best foot forward without the pain of writing a CV from scratch, the client gets a highly targeted first representation of the prospective candidate, and you don’t have to stress about the process being held up or not having a tailored CV.

My guess is there are many executive recruiters out there who do something very similar already but hopefully this serves as a great reminder to a) start using this if you don’t, and b) to perhaps fine tune what you do have, for everyone’s benefit.

For more information about the new book I referenced see Hiring Greatness.

About the Author:

Tsen Wharton is a former executive recruiter turned software entrepreneur who is passionate about helping recruiters serve their clients in a way that brings superior results for everyone. He is the founder of OpusPro - a software tool built by and for recruiters to optimise search assignment management and enhance collaboration with clients.

Wharton writes about insights, ideas and best practices, both directly from and out-with the recruitment industry, that can help recruiters get more of the results they want.

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