Menu
white-paper
Recruit to Close Your Leadership Gap

Strategies to Attract the Leaders You Need

In today’s war for talent, recruiting and hiring an A-team of employees isn’t easy—it’s a candidate’s market, and companies must compete to fill critical roles. In fact, finding the right talent is identified as one of the top concerns of CEOs surveyed in a recent study.1 We also know that 32 percent of U.S. employers report difficulties filling job openings because of talent shortages,2 and that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 40 million highly-skilled workers and 45 million medium-skilled workers. Translation: the war for talent won’t be ending any time soon.3

Within this ongoing talent shortage is a particularly critical challenge: leadership gaps. Leadership is identified as the number one talent issue organizations face, with 86 percent of respondents surveyed citing leadership as “urgent” or “important” to their organization.4 Companies are challenged to find leaders—from managers up to the C-Suite—with the right skills to impact organizational success. To that point, 30 percent of hiring managers say they currently struggle to find candidates to consider for senior leadership roles.5

Lack of competent leadership is evident at all levels of business.6 Only 15 percent of organizations say they have a strong bench of leaders.7 Specifically, DDI World finds that companies in manufacturing and healthcare are the most challenged to source strong leaders, as a result of an aging workforce and slower industry growth, while companies in the pharmaceuticals and IT lack leaders with the right combination of skills for their rapidly-evolving fields.

So, when we talk about leadership gaps today, perhaps the more pertinent question is not “do leadership gaps exist?” but “why should companies be concerned?”.

Leadership gaps matter for a couple of reasons, all of which affect the corporate bottom line. First, companies need competent leaders to drive growth and productivity. We know that leaders are responsible for the strategic decisions that shape company goals and success. Second, competent leaders significantly influence a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent at all levels. Think about it—leaders have a hand in:

  • Deciding how HR departments will operate, and how funds will be used
  • Deciding if and what talent acquisition technology to procure
  • Determining the direction of company culture, a key factor candidates consider when applying for jobs

Though most managers believe pay is the primary reason people leave their jobs, research finds that the number one reason actually is “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders”.8 In other words, leaders play an important part in the success of a company’s talent management. Without strong leaders at the helm of an organization’s ship, it becomes more challenging to secure the talent it needs to stay competitive.

Leadership gaps also matter because each of the top 20 leadership skills identified as critical to success today is projected to increase in importance in the future. Key leadership skills like taking initiative, inciting change management, and inspiring commitment will be even more integral to an organization’s success in the future.9 Companies need leaders that can bring these skills to the table.


Source: Center for Creative Leadership

What’s Driving the Leadership Gap?

There are a number of reasons that gaps in leadership are a growing challenge for companies.

  • Overall Talent Shortages:
    iCIMS’ Q2 U.S. Hiring Trends Report finds that industries throughout the United States—specifically healthcare, retail, and business services industries—have high concentrations of jobs to be filled, with the smallest supply of applicants for open positions in the healthcare, consulting, and legal industries.10
  • Rise of the Millennial Workforce:
    As millennials (who will comprise half of the U.S. workforce by 2020) advance in their careers, the challenge to fill leadership roles may increase. The reason? Only 31 percent of millennials express interest in a C-Level position11, and those that do have interest in traditional leadership roles have different expectations as to what leadership should look like.
  • Retirement of Baby Boomers:
    Every day, 10,000 baby boomers in the U.S. turn 65. Though the average age of executive leadership is decreasing in some industries, across the board, the average age professionals become a CEO is still 50—leaving a wide gap between today’s current chief executives and young millennials.12
  • Lack of Investment in Leadership:
    One of the most significant roadblocks to attracting better leaders is lack of investment in leadership as an organizational priority. Though 59 percent of companies believe that succession planning is more challenging in today’s economy, only 23 percent of companies make leadership succession planning a high priority, according to a 2015 Global Workforce Leadership study. As a result of this lack of investment, Bersin by Deloitte finds that 51 percent of executives have little confidence in their ability to drive clear, consistent succession programs.

In light of these significant influences, companies will have to ask themselves: how can we better source the leaders we need, both now and in the future?

The answer starts with the right recruitment strategies.

Recruitment Strategies to Close the Gap

STRATEGY #1: Get to Know Your Future Leaders

Millennials are the face of tomorrow’s leadership, and because their career preferences are distinct, what attracts top performers to leadership roles today is not what will attract them to these roles in the future. Companies therefore need to adjust the value propositions they present to millennial candidates to be hired as leaders or placed in leadership-track positions. Research finds millennials want careers that empower them to:

  • Be Purposeful: Sixty percent of millennials say that being able to work with a “sense of purpose” was the reason they chose their current employer.13 Millennials need a compelling reason—beyond salary— to want to utilize their strengths and talents.
  • Be Flexible: Sixty-four percent of millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66 percent would like to shift their work hours.14
  • Be Part of an Engaging Company Culture: Millennials consider company culture one of the most important factors when considering a job. Tomorrow’s leaders want to work for companies that offer an engaging work environment. Case in point: millennials’ ideal places to work are Google, Apple, and Facebook.15
  • Be Autonomous: Seventy-two percent of millennials would like to be their own boss.16 Ensure leadership roles allow millennials to impact real change.

Interestingly, how millennials define leadership also differs from generations past. Millennials define “true leaders” as individuals who are strategic thinkers (39 percent) and inspirational (37 percent), not those that embody profit and personal reward.17 This paradigm shift can shape how your organization talks about its leadership roles in job postings, interviews, and on other platforms.

STRATEGY #2: Write Job Postings that Give Leaders a Reason to Apply

It’s important that job postings for leadership roles not only reflect a thorough understanding of what you’re looking for, but address what you have to offer. Candidates for leadership positions aren’t just looking to get their foot in the door; they’re experienced professionals who likely already have a job they enjoy. They need to be persuaded with reasons to consider your organization.

Strengthen job postings for managers, senior leaders, and C-Suite executives by:

  • Using the introductory paragraph of your posting to highlight your unique company culture or recent corporate achievements, and to address the most important question: why should a leader want to work for you?
  • Writing clear descriptions. Candidates interested in leadership positions need specifics. Avoid using general turn of phrases that lack meaning and organize a job posting by intuitive categories, like responsibilities, qualifications, etc. Be detailed—but concise—in describing the role a candidate will fill.

Successful job postings for leadership positions also depend upon the relationship between recruiter and hiring manager. Recruiters can’t effectively connect and engage with top leadership talent if hiring managers don’t share the right information about a job. 51 percent of recruiters said hiring managers "should do a better job communicating what they are looking for in a candidate" and "provide relatable examples."19

This is where both organizational dynamics and streamlined talent acquisition software can come in to play to ensure that workflows (creating job descriptions, scheduling postings to job boards, etc.) are automated and stakeholders are held to the right timelines.

STRATEGY #3: Recognize the Need to Nurture

Research finds that 60 percent of all candidates are passive candidates—a.k.a, candidates that don’t actively submit an application in direct response to a job posting.20 Rather, candidates for these roles get familiar with your organization’s opportunities over time. They may read one of your white papers, read your posts on social media, browse your website, and then, weeks down the road, consider applying for a job after speaking to a recruiter.

Understanding how to engage with passive candidates is particularly important when recruiting leaders because leaders are typically already employed, and aren’t as actively seeking jobs. Additionally, the average time-to-fill leadership roles is longer than the overall average time-to-fill, which means that regardless of whether leadership candidates are active or passive, they will have plenty of time to explore, connect, and engage with your organization before accepting an offer.21 How you interact with candidates outside of the application or interview process is a part of passive recruiting.

The Takeaway: Refine the art of engaging with passive leadership candidates.

  • Step 1: Build targeted pools of leadership talent
    Develop separate talent pools that specifically organize candidates qualified for leadership positions, and tailor your interactions with these candidates. For example, rather than update all of your passive candidates with an automated email announcing your company will be at a university job fair, divide and conquer. Easily configure software settings to distribute a different email to leadership candidates about something that better aligns with their interests, such as a thought leadership article that positions your company as an industry expert.
  • Step 2: Provide ways to stay in touch
    Fifty-two percent of job seekers spend one to four hours researching a company before applying22, which reinforces the idea that candidates are consumers. Since candidates want to learn more, make it easy for them to identify touchpoints with your organization.

    A critical place to offer engagement touchpoints? Your career site. Remember that candidates can become passive, rather than active, the moment they decide not to fill out the application on your career site. This is a prime opportunity to ensure these candidates don’t lose touch for good.

    Opportunities for ongoing engagement on your career site can include a newsletter email sign up, quick resume upload feature, or social media buttons.
  • Step 3: Make it easy to connect with your organization’s social media profiles
    Let leadership candidates learn more about your organization on their own time by making it easy to follow you on social media. On your branded career site, feature social buttons from which applicants can subscribe to your social media platforms. These links to your social profiles can also be placed on your company website, at the end of blog posts and white papers, and other social media profiles. Keep these profiles rich with relevant, engaging content. Specifically, content directed at leaders should:
    • Showcase your corporate brand/company culture
    • Provide updates on job openings and industry events your organization will be speaking at or hosting
    • Demonstrate your company contributes innovative ideas to industry discussion, such as with an article that sheds new light on a consumer trend Make use of video, such as by creating a video showing a day in the life of a leader at your company

Social Fast Fact: Sixty-two percent of job seekers believe that LinkedIn is the best place to look for a job.23


With a robust pipeline of qualified candidates and a strategy for continued engagement, organizations are better prepared to back-fill and expand leadership positions when needed, without settling for mediocre candidates.

STRATEGY #4: Market Your Company Culture

Seventy-six percent of candidates say company culture is an important factor in their job search.24 Organizations should therefore identify and distill what it is that defines their company’s culture—and then sell it to potential leaders.

Remember, leaders are needed to motivate and inspire your workforce, but they can’t motivate what they don’t stand behind.

However, company culture doesn’t have to be about beer Fridays, nap rooms, or—a la Google—spending 20 percent of work time on side projects (although none of these could hurt). It could be about a culture that recognizes achievement, values integrity, or embraces a collaborative work style. Whatever currently defines your company, package it up and market it to your audience of future leaders. By not defining your company’s culture and marketing it the right way, you may end up with leadership that isn’t a strong cultural fit.

STRATEGY #5: Create and Promote an Employee Referral Program

Research finds that 93 percent of top performers in their field don’t find employment from a job posting; instead, they’re referred by someone they know.25 That a candidate’s match for a position increases in statistical significance from 2.6 to 6.6 when the candidate is an employee referral underscores the advantages of employee referrals.26 Additionally, 88 percent of employers rate employee referrals above all other sources for quality of hires, according to research from CareerBuilder. To find referred leadership candidates, pay particular attention to your current leadership’s networks. The best leaders tend to have the broadest networks.

To ensure that employee referral programs can successfully and sustainably source leadership candidates, a program should be:

  • Incentivized: Employees need compelling reasons to want to refer their friends and associates. Successful incentives can include cash bonuses and extra PTO days. Keep in mind that paying for incentives can be much cheaper than the cost of hiring a bad leader (which can average 1/3 of a new hire’s salary).27
  • Automated: Tapping into employee networks can be easy with automated social distribution. At a designated frequency, uploaded job postings will be distributed on employees’ social channels like LinkedIn and Facebook, with no action required by the employee.
  • Simple: Employees need to sign up for your employee referral programs only once, and then they can walk away. Software will track which of their connections responds to a job posting, and employees will be rewarded accordingly if the connection is hired.

Though 43 percent of companies find their best hires from employee referrals, only 14 percent of companies use employee referral technology to maintain effective employee referral programs.28

Looking Ahead: Setting Up Leaders for Success

Closing the leadership gap also depends on setting leaders up for success from the start. An effective onboarding program that manages a new hire’s schedule and workflow for more than just the first day is a critical component of preparing leaders for success. Onboarding is more than just orientation, it’s an entire process that ensures leaders have the resources and training they need to carry out their responsibilities.

Onboarding that’s intuitive and automated can better meet expectations of tomorrow’s leaders, as 92 percent of millennials believe teamwork produces solutions and 35 percent expect excellent new hire training, according to a study by the University of Denver. Onboarding that connects new hires to the people and resources they need can create opportunities for teamwork and collaboration, and improves upon traditional approaches to training.

By not addressing gaps in leadership, companies will be challenged to meet long-term goals and remain competitive within their industries. Though external factors like global talent shortages and the retirement of baby boomers may make addressing these gaps more difficult, with more strategic recruitment tactics, companies are better positioned to meet these challenges.

How iCIMS Can Help