Can You Fight C-Suite Turnover with Employer Branding and Candidate Care?


If I told you a high-performing, high-producing member of your c-suite was planning to leave in the next year or two, would you do anything to try to keep them? What if I told you your entire c-suite would be going?

C-suite turnover is a real thing -- and a real problem that keeps growing in this ultra-competitive market. A few years back, executives, on average, stayed with a company for 5.3 years. Our most recent survey indicates that life sciences industry executives have a shorter-term goals: 55 percent of respondents said they planned to be out before the end of two years.

In general, turnover rates are higher than average for the life sciences industry. For example, in biotech, the turnover rate currently sits at 28.9%. For comparison, industry average in the U.S. in 2018 was 22%. And don’t blame retirements, which were only 1% of all turnovers in 2018 (down from 4% the previous year). While a 7 point increase may not seem exorbitant, think of this way: if your company has 50 executives, you’ll lose more than 14 each year. What’s that going to do to progress?

Now here’s where you might be thinking, “Bob, isn’t high turnover good for your business?” and I’d probably say “Yes,” except that it isn’t. As executive recruiters, we want to ensure the companies we serve get people who will help them get new treatments to market and grow their businesses. We don’t want to put just anyone in a role. We want to put the right executives who are motivated by all the right reasons, including career challenges, a chance to work on a life-saving and/or life-changing product, and opportunities to work within a culture that truly suits them. We can do this only by connecting with candidates who are carefully vetted and treated with respect every step of the way.

How do we do it? We call it “Candidate Care.” Pretty self-explanatory, right? Really, it’s simply a component of your bigger Employer Branding program, which itself is subcategory of an even bigger umbrella, Corporate Culture. The problem, however, is that Candidate Care doesn’t always make it on the radar of companies that are already strapped for time and resources. They may spend a lot of money and effort on Employer Branding, building a great LinkedIn Careers page, making employees-at-play videos, ensuring every candidate gets a thank-you package after their interview, and sending out automated responses through their tracking system stating, “Thanks for your time but we hired someone else.” None of this substitutes for old-fashioned Candidate Care.

What is candidate care?

Candidate Care is exactly what it sounds like: treating candidates like the royalty they are. Candidate care means you’re respecting the candidate’s time, interviewing only the right individuals, asking questions that lead to answers that will help you make a decision, preparing for meetings, being on time (or calling candidates to let them know that there’s been a change in your schedule), scheduling interviews only when you’re truly interested in a candidate (and never continuing interviews AFTER you’ve extended an offer), connecting person-to-person rather than electronically ensuring transparency every step of the way, and so much more. In other words, it’s how you’d want to be treated when you’re being courted by a company.

Too frequently, however, companies miss some or all of these steps. For example, members of the interview team ask the same questions over and over again or ask questions that they could readily get answers to from a CV. Candidates show up on time and then sit in the lobby or a conference room for 30+ minutes. Candidates are promised things that never materialize, or communication breaks down entirely. Candidates are interviewed by recruiters who don’t know the industry or understand the lingo of a key role. Candidates are pushed through the process without regard to culture.

How can you get candidate care on the radar of the c-suite if the c-suite is leaving?

Your C-Suite has a lot on its plate already, which can sometimes make elevating Candidate Care seem like an exercise in futility. But it’s essential, whether you’re trying to hire and retain the right line worker or your next executive.

My advice is that you try first by simply mentioning the power of Candidate Care. If that doesn’t work, pull out stats to prove that your company’s Candidate Care needs a boost. For example:

  • Trends in turnover rate -- review 15+ years, if possible, and chart.
  • Average tenure of employees/former employees hired in the past three years.
  • Number of candidates who turn down an interview or an offer.
  • Number of times you reschedule candidate interviews.
  • Number of candidates who look to negotiate based on a counter offer from their current employer.
  • Number of prospective candidates who never respond to emails to learn more about the role.

Alone, none of these statistics would probably convince the C-Suite that Candidate Care needs attention. Together, they paint a much different story.

Candidate Care, by the way, doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Once you outline and manage the processes, it simply requires someone to oversee it and govern the experience. Our clients already know that we do this for them in our executive recruiting -- in a sense, we’re the first experience a future employee has with the employer brand and culture, too.

When you’re building a strong Employer Brand and competing for a limited talent supply, you can’t ignore Candidate Care. It’s the very first impression you’ll make on a prospective candidate. It strongly influences a candidate’s decision to move forward with the interview process -- every step of the way -- because it’s seen as a reflection of corporate culture. It impacts your employer reputation in online reviews (“The process took 6+ weeks,” “I sat through five 45-minute interviews in one day and almost every question could have been answered if they had just looked at my resume,” “I waited in the lobby nearly an hour before someone told me that my interviewer would need to cancel,” “They had already made an offer to someone else but decided to interview me ‘just in case’!”). It helps you get the right candidates in place, which affects the retention of everyone. You’ll see evidence of this if you go to Glassdoor and look up companies rated < 4 stars. Almost every time, you’ll find comments about the “revolving door” in leadership, how a change at the top impacted a lower-level employee to move on. Candidate Care doesn’t just impact the candidate. Conversely, think about the impact that a team of not-quite-up-to-snuff employees has on an executive. When it’s an executive role or even a management role, Candidate Care trickles down to impact every employee in their chain. When it’s line workers, Candidate Care filters back up to the executive team. It’s a cycle.

Done right, Candidate Care ensures you’re hiring candidates with the right experience, who will enhance your company’s culture, who are motivated by all the right reasons to take a new role, and who start on day one with a mutual respect for and with their new employer. Who wouldn’t want to stick around for that?

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