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Six Executive Search Red Flags

Securing the best executive talent for your firm can feel like a minefield. Recognising these key characteristics as you narrow the executive search for your ideal senior candidate can ease any potential grief later on.

Recruiting any candidate is undoubtedly a critical and decisive factor to your firm’s success. The importance of a good hire exponentially rises when it comes to senior executives and partners. After all, their strategic decisions and actions are critical to the success or failure of the firm’s objectives. This is why finding and securing the best candidates for senior roles is by far one of the most resource intensive and difficult challenges to all firms.

In this article, we will discuss the six key characteristics you should watch out for as you narrow your prospects furing your executive search for the best senior hire.

Mediocre communication skills

Does your candidate take a while to get back to you on your enquiries? How has your correspondence been with them? Are they clear and succinct in what they have to say?

Senior-level candidates must be impeccable communicators. If they demonstrate the three C’s of good communication skills; clear, confident and concise – they are likely to be adept in steering and mentoring the employees in your firm.

“No weaknesses”

No one is infallible – all senior candidates should be aware of this. Hence, if a candidate claims to recognise “no weaknesses”, it can be problematic in a number of ways; it is at best, delusional and at worst, dishonest. If a candidate can be dishonest with such a question, it does raise suspicions on the integrity of other things that they have to say.

If they wholeheartedly believe that they are indeed free from any weaknesses, it might indicate poor self-awareness (which incidentally, is a weakness in its own right!). Lack of self-awareness from management can create issues within the team as there will be instances where the senior candidate may need to mindfully adjust their personal characteristics to motivate and nurture a positive team culture.


There is no doubt that confidence is an imperative leadership trait. Confidence can motivate a sense of belief to the cause, boost morale and engagement. If the balance tips over too far in the direction of egotism and arrogance, it can have the opposite effect as arrogance can create a stiff environment for true connection with the team and steer company culture from its intended direction.

A workaholic

This one is a double-edged sword. While a workaholic can be viewed as being passionate about achieving goals and objectives, it can also be problematic in today’s senior management. With greater awareness around mental health, stress, overworking and burn out, a workaholic senior hire may not make an ideal candidate.

On top of being susceptible to self-inflicted burnout from their personal tendencies, the effect of workaholism can cascade down to team members under their guidance and management. In turn, this can be counterproductive and lead to team demoralisation.

It is worth delving deeper into what candidates define as workaholic traits and following up on what their expectations are with team members during high demand work seasons. It is best to make a decision based on how well these characteristics align with your firm’s values and vision of a strong, high-performing team.

Lukewarm references

Candidates in general tend to provide references that they feel are likely to provide a glowing review of their interactions and collaborations.

Senior-level candidates should ideally have left a good impression on previous coworkers and supervisors in the past. If the candidate has provided references that provide lukewarm feedback on their interactions, it might be worth weighing up the other characteristics they displayed during the interview, investigating further and approaching with caution.

Have been on the lookout for a while

In our experience, most high performing individuals or those with the right characteristics rarely actively seek a new role. While there are myriad reasons why a person may look to change jobs, someone who is actively on the lookout for a position may be a wild card in the midst and best vetted through with the above list of traits in mind.

At any given moment, it is estimated that less than 10% of the market is actively looking for a new role and that the majority of those who are, will be junior folk. This small sliver of the vast number of people in the sector might not have the best representation of qualities that you are after.

Utilising your network, overlaid with professional executive search is much more likely to reap better results in finding the ideal candidate for the senior roles your business needs to fill.

Ortus Group can help you in your executive search

Ortus Group has more than 18 years of experience in the legal sector with executive search, mergers and acquisition. The team is trained to provide systematic guidance in what can be a fraught process to ensure smooth transitions for all parties involved and has advised on more than 50 completed mergers and hundreds of partner appointments.

For more information on how the team can help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

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