Angie Henson - August 29, 2023

When Is C-Level Recruiting a Good Idea for Business?

Learn why and how to begin C-level recruitment.

At some point, most companies need to engage in C-level recruiting. But how can you know when it’s the right time—and what benefits and risks does it entail?

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What C-level recruiting involves
  • Key advantages and pitfalls
  • Best practices in C-level recruiting
  • Case studies of successful C-level recruitment

Ultimately, you’ll understand what differentiates C-level recruiting from other types of recruiting—and how to get it right.

Understanding C-Level Recruiting

Companies today have a number of C-level roles. Here are a few core ones:

  • Chief executive officer. The CEO guides strategic planning.
  • Chief operating officer. The COO implements strategies designed by the CEO.
  • Chief financial officer. The CFO heads up long-range financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting.
  • Chief information officer. The CIO finds ways to leverage information technology to grow the business.
  • Chief marketing officer. The CMO spearheads marketing strategy.

As your organization grows, you might find yourself adding a new C-level role. Or, you may need to replace departing leaders.

Start looking well in advance, since the process can take months. If you plan to add a new role in six months, you might start putting out feelers now. But that’s easier said than done. Often C-level talent isn’t actively searching for a new role—at least not in a public way—since they’re probably currently working in a high-profile position.

Benefits of C-Level Recruiting

Finding the right leader will deliver major advantages:

  • Increased expertise and experience
  • Better decision-making abilities
  • Improved company culture and employee morale
  • Enhanced competitive advantage

For these reasons, strong C-level recruiting plays an instrumental role in company success. In all of these ways, a strong executive team will steer a company’s success for many years to come.

Risks of C-Level Recruiting

C-level recruiting incurs higher costs and time commitments than recruitment of other staff. For a less established company, these issues can pose a major hurdle.

Integration challenges can also affect a new C-level leader’s success. For example, a leader may feel pressured to take action before fully understanding people’s needs. Strive to choose a thoughtful candidate who will spend time listening and learning about the culture before making big changes.

Further, missteps in C-level recruiting can damage a company’s reputation. View the process as a chance to boost your visibility among top talent. The candidates you don’t hire could be the right fit down the road—and they’ll talk to their peers.

Best Practices for C-Level Recruiting

Let’s dive into the key factors in success for top-level recruiting.

1. Defining Values, Culture, and Qualifications

Define your company culture and values—they matter a great deal to C-level candidates.

Among C-level talent, 72% want to work for a company that’s committed to diversity and inclusion. Organizational culture plays a huge role as well.  “Culture is so meaningful that 33% of C-suite-level candidates said they’d take a pay cut to work for a mission-driven company that aligns with their ideals,” writes PwC.

Then, identify the necessary skills and experience. What type of leadership does your company need? Define your key challenges and the skills needed to guide the organization through these obstacles.

Today, C-level leaders need more than administrative and financial management skills, as HBR asserts. Most companies need leaders who can inspire diverse workforces and act as the face of the company. Thus, people skills are imperative.

2. Maintaining Confidentiality in C-Level Recruiting

During the hiring process, maintain candidates’ privacy. They may not want their current employer to know they’re looking for a new role. Likewise, companies often don’t want to broadcast the fact that they’re looking for a new leader. For one thing, they wouldn’t want competitors and stakeholders to perceive this time of transition as signaling weakness.

Likewise, protect sensitive company information. You’ll probably want to talk with top candidates about how they would address specific issues, but consider how much to disclose in advance.

By taking these steps, you’ll foster trust between the company and the prospective executive.

3. Using Multiple Channels to Source Candidates

Here’s how to use the best available means of sourcing C-level talent.

Leverage Technology for Recruitment

Look through your social network on LinkedIn, in case you spot any ideal candidates. You can also look on executive-level job search sites, like the Ladders. Depending on your plan, the site might recommend candidates with the desired background.

Engaging C-Level Recruiters

C-level recruiters can connect you with top talent through their extensive networks. That’s why 80–90% of Fortune 250 and FTSE 100 businesses employ the help of executive search firms.

The Role of C-Level Recruiting Firms

C-level search firms can help establish selection criteria and requirements. They’re pros at asking the right questions to help define a company’s needs.

They’re also masters of maintaining confidentiality. They can reach out to clients to assess interest before telling them which firm is hiring.

Such recruiters understand how to source and screen the best candidates, utilizing their industry expertise to find the best fit. They’ll even have a strong understanding of what a competitive offer looks like.

Cost-Effectiveness of Executive Search Firms

In-house recruiting teams understand their culture and the company’s pain points. But outsourcing can lend a valuable outside perspective that connects the dots between your needs and the skills required.

While in-house recruiting can seem less costly, the expense of making the wrong choice can be monumental. This individual will shape your culture and strategic direction—and the wrong choice can be very costly. Aside from the direct costs of replacing a leader, there are the hard-to-quantify costs of lost momentum, missed opportunities, and cultural decline to consider. Finding the right executive will shape your entire future, bringing expanded opportunities for growth and innovation.

Consider the hidden costs of an in-house search process that extends for many months, too. What employee development programs could your HR staff be implementing instead?

Case Studies: Successful C-Level Recruiting

Snack food company Mondelez recruited Dirk Van de Put, who had extensive industry experience and a fresh perspective, to replace its resigning CEO in 2017. Share prices went up with the announcement, and he continues to drive their growth today. He works for sustainable growth through recyclable packaging goals, DEI efforts, and ethical labor practices.

When Ralph Lauren stepped down as CEO after a 50-year run, he named Stefan Larsson, a Swedish retail exec from outside the company, as his successor. Reportedly, Larsson engaged in substantial restructuring that damaged morale and diverged too sharply from the company’s existing strategy. So, Lauren named Patrice Louvet, a Proctor & Gamble exec, as his replacement. Louvet, who remains the CEO today, merges respect for the brand’s history and vision with innovative thinking.


  • Think through key pain points and needs to determine the qualities needed in a leader.
  • Maintain confidentiality during the search process by taking the right precautions.
  • Consider working with C-level recruiters due to their outside perspective, expertise, and connections.
  • Weigh the costs of enlisting a recruiting firm against the hidden costs of making a poor choice or missing business opportunities.
  • Look for a thoughtful leader who will invest time in building relationships and understanding the needs of key stakeholders.


Tags: Business Growth Business Leadership

  1. About the Author:

  2. About the Author:

    As a Principal at Valesco, Angie Henson serves in key roles related to new investment origination, portfolio management, and investor relations. She directs the firm’s strategic acquisition planning and program management as acting head of research and business development operations since 2002. Angie holds a Bachelor of Science from Tarleton State University and a certificate in entrepreneurial studies from Southern Methodist University.

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