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How to recruit a CEO

How to recruit a new CEO for your entity.

Before you start

Before you start any recruitment, check if anyone on your board has a conflict of interestExternal Link . You need to continue to monitor this, as a conflict may arise as recruitment progresses.

Anyone with a conflict of interest needs to declare the conflict and your board needs to decide how to manage it.

Prepare to recruit

  1. As a board, write a recruitment brief that covers:

    • your entity’s operating environment and future directions
    • key accountabilities of the CEO role
    • key selection criteria
    • professional and/or lived experience or knowledge that would be valuable to your entity
    • the personal qualities of a CEO that would best suit your entity
    • what your entity can offer the successful candidate
    • other relevant information.

    Use our list of questions to help:

  2. Your board may set up a recruitment sub-committee to make key decisions throughout the recruitment process. Or you may have an existing remuneration committee that could take this role.

    Either way, it’s a good idea for your chair to be a member of the committee.

    If you establish a committee, your board sets its terms of reference, which must include:

    • what authority your board gives the committee, such as the kinds of decisions it can make
    • when and how the committee needs to consult with your board
    • the role and responsibility of the panel in relation to the committee.

    If you're on a board for a small organisation, you may not need a recruitment committee. If you don't set up a committee, your board needs to ensure the selection panel understands its role and responsibilities.

    The requirements written in this guide are for the recruitment committee. But you can tailor these requirements to reflect the agreed roles and responsibilities of your board, recruitment committee and panel.

  3. Your recruitment sub-committee reviews:

    • the laws or documents that established your entity
    • any Victorian Government policies related to recruitment.

    These may have specific requirements for your hiring process.

    Confirm the classification of the role and clarify the remuneration range your board considers appropriate. For guidance, read the Victorian Public Entity Executive Classification FrameworkExternal Link .

    Consult your portfolio department and minister’s office to check on their interest in and requirements for the recruitment process.

  4. Your recruitment sub-committee develops a project plan that has:

    • a timeline for each recruitment step
    • who will be involved in each step
    • what you’ll do if the hiring process takes longer than you expect, known as a contingency plan.

    Checklist to plan your process

    When you're planning your recruitment process, speak with your entity's or portfolio department's people and culture team.

    They can guide you on how to make your process fair and consistent and comply with your organisation’s policies and the law.

    Think about how you’ll shortlist candidates:

    • What documents do candidates need to submit, such as cover letters, a CV and responses to key selection criteria?
    • Do you need proof of qualifications?
    • Do you want candidates to provide responses to all or some of the key selection criteria?
    • Is there anything else you want candidates to submit, such as a portfolio of work?
    • Will you provide an application form that your candidates need to fill out?

    Also think about how you’ll assess your candidates:

    • Who will be on your selection panel?
    • Do you have diversity of thinking and lived experience on your selection panel?
    • Is your selection panel reflective of the candidates you want to attract?
    • Will there be a practical element to the selection process, such as with case studies or a simulated work task?
    • Do you want candidates to undertake psychometric testing?

    Contingency plan

    You may need a contingency plan if you can’t find a suitable candidate or your preferred candidate cannot start immediately.

    Your contingency plan provides options for who will do the CEO’s job until you recruit a new one.

    For example, you could:

    • have a senior employee act in the role
    • extend your current CEO’s contract
    • put new initiatives on hold.

    During the time the contingency plan is in place, you may choose to delay strategic decisions until you appoint the new CEO. For example, it may be appropriate for your board to put new initiatives on hold.

    Get more advice on How to plan for succession.

  5. Your recruitment sub-committee sets clear terms and conditions for your CEO’s appointment, in line with the Victorian public entity executive handbookExternal Link .

    This will include what you can and can’t offer your CEO as part of their employment package.

    The public entity executive remuneration policyExternal Link mandates key terms for executive employment.

  6. Your recruitment sub-committee can choose to hire a consultant to help find suitable CEO candidates.

    They may help you:

    • save time
    • attract a larger pool of candidates.

    They will also conduct a rigorous and impartial evaluation of candidates.

    Get more advice on using an executive search consultant.

  7. Your recruitment sub-committee sets up the selection panel. This can include members of the sub-commitee.

    The panel should have a diverse mix of people who can assess a CEO.

    It’s a good idea to have your board chair on the panel. You may also want to consider asking a key stakeholder to join the panel.

    Your recruitment sub-committee can also assign someone to set up interviews and block time in diaries for the panel to do their duties.

  8. When your recruitment sub-committee has finished its preparations, it briefs your board on the plan.

    Your board must approve the plan before recruitment can start.

    Your recruitment process must comply with public sector employment principlesExternal Link including fair and reasonable treatment for all candidates and employment based on merit.

Attract candidates

  1. Your recruitment sub-committee creates a position description.

    To write your position description, use the information from your board’s recruitment brief and the employment terms and conditions your committee has set.

    The position description should cover these topics:

    • about the role
    • who to contact about the role
    • about the public entity
    • role purpose and objectives
    • role accountabilities
    • key selection criteria
    • pre-employment screening requirements
    • employee benefits
    • an equal opportunity and diversity statement
    • how to apply.
  2. Talk with your people and culture team on where they recommend you advertise your role.

    Some places you can consider are:

    • Careers.vicExternal Link , the Victorian public sector’s jobs board
    • external careers websites
    • social media, like LinkedIn or government-run social media sites

    To reach diverse candidates, advertise the position widely and through various channels.

  3. The experience someone has when they apply for your role has a huge impact on what they think of you, your organisation and the public sector.

    Tips for good candidate care

    When your job is being advertised:

    • make sure the contact person on the advertisement is available to answer questions about the position, team and organisation during the advertising period
    • ensure you keep candidates updated on the process, such as if there are delays
    • confirm your contact person understands what a workplace adjustment is and how to offer these
    • always offer to provide candidates with information in different formats if they need it
    • have more than one way a candidate can contact you, such as email, mobile numbers to SMS and the National Relay Service.

    Reasonable adjustments

    Reasonable adjustments (also known as workplace adjustments) are changes to the work environment or conditions that allow people with disability to work safely and productively.

    A candidate has a choice if they want to disclose their disability. If they do and request a reasonable adjustment to your process, under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010External Link you must make it.

    Assess candidates

    1. Based on the applications received, your recruitment sub-committee makes a shortlist of people to interview.

      One way you can do this is to use a rating scale to assess candidates fairly and consistently.

      Before interviewing candidates, your sub-committee may want to discuss areas of particular interest to inform the panel. The panel then prepares interview questions. Check if the questions should be approved by the sub-committee, the whole board or both.

      It can be helpful to use behavioural based questions drawn from the key selection criteria.

      Behavioural-based questions focus on past behaviours, rather than knowledge or opinions about hypothetical situations.

      Avoid multi-part questions and keep them open ended to encourage storytelling.

      You may also want to ask candidates to make a presentation.

      For CEO roles, you would normally interview strong candidates at least twice.

      The purpose of the first-round interview is to check the extent to which a candidate meets the key selection criteria.

    2. Interviews aren’t your only source of information to assess the candidates to see if they fit the role.

      With the selection panel, the recruitment sub-committee should collect and check the accuracy of evidence about each candidate’s abilities.

      This may include:

      • work history, such as when and how long they held roles and reasons for gaps in employment
      • published statements, such as articles, social media posts and quotes
      • third-party insights where credible, such as from peers, media reports or other comments made in a public forum about the candidate
      • their conduct in your interviews and in other interactions.

      You can also consider doing some tests, such as:

      • cognitive tests on their thought processes
      • psychometric tests on their capability and fit
      • scenario tests on their work style and capacity to perform under pressure.
    3. Don’t accept or dismiss information about candidates at face value.

      Instead, look at all relevant evidence before you exclude them as a candidate.

      Here are some themes and questions you can use:

      Candidates with mostly private sector experience

      • Would they be successful in a public sector environment?
      • What support would they need to work as a public sector CEO?

      Candidates with large gaps in paid employment

      • Why do they have large gaps in their paid employment?

      Candidates associated with a significant failure to deliver outcomes

      • What caused the failure?
      • What have they changed about their leadership style and behaviour to stop a similar failure happening again?

      In the minds of stakeholders, would their failure:

      • make them less credible as a CEO?
      • weaken your entity’s reputation or public trust in the effectiveness or capability of the public sector?

      Candidates who have criticised the current government, public sector or your entity

      • When and why did they make these comments?

      In the minds of stakeholders, would their comments:

      • make them less credible as a CEO?
      • mean others wouldn’t want to work with them?
      • weaken public trust in the impartiality of the public sector?

      Candidate refuses to let you contact a person they didn’t identify as a referee

      • Why did they refuse the request?
      • Based on what they tell you, do you still trust them or think they can work with others?

      Candidate has been convicted of a crime

      • What are the crimes the candidate was convicted of?

      To what extent would their crime impact:

      • their ability to be a CEO?
      • their credibility with stakeholders?

      Candidate has received a civil penalty

      • What was the penalty imposed for?

      To what extent would the penalty impact:

      • their ability to be a CEO?
      • their credibility with stakeholders?

      Candidates who have behaved inappropriately in the past

      • What did they do and why?
      • How serious was the behaviour?
      • Did it happen once or is there evidence of a pattern or trend?

      To what extent would the behaviour impact:

      • their ability to be a CEO?
      • their credibility with stakeholders?

      Candidates with possible conflicts of interest or duty

      • Do they have any conflicts of interestExternal Link or duty, such as commercial interests, personal affiliations or board appointments?
      • How will they manage actual or perceived conflicts of interest?

    Select a candidate

    1. First your selection panel makes a list of candidates that:

      • meet the key selection criteria best
      • have enough supporting evidence to show they’re a good candidate
      • performed well in the first-round interviews.

      Then your whole board needs to review and approve of the short-list and rationale used to prepare the short-list.

    2. Your panel should:

      • thank unsuccessful candidates for their time but advise them they’re not short-listed, with the reasons why
      • advise successful candidates they’ve been short-listed and of the next steps in the recruitment process you’re using.
    3. Your selection panel sets up and runs second-round interviews with short-listed candidates.

      Use this interview to:

      • explore if a candidate is a good fit for the role
      • check if any of their capabilities are vague, confusing or concerning for the selection panel
      • see if they’ll be a good fit with your board, entity and work they need to do.
    4. In addition to your second-round interviews, the selection panel should check the references of your top 1 or 2 candidates.

      To prepare for the reference check:

      • review the candidate’s application including their resume, cover letter and responses to the key selection criteria
      • review your candidate’s interview responses and any other evidence you have
      • identify any areas you’d like to focus on or clarify with the referee
      • prepare tailored questions to ask the referee.
    5. Your selection panel ranks your short-list of candidates based on all the evidence you’ve collected so far.

      This includes who they think will best fit your organisation’s current and future needs.

      The whole board then reviews the ranking of the short-listed candidates and the rationale behind this.

      If the board is satisfied, they can ask the selection panel to make a conditional offer to the preferred candidate.

      A conditional offer means the preferred candidate will likely be hired if they pass a few last checks.

      Outcomes and feedback

      The board chair makes the conditional offer to the preferred candidate and tells them why they were chosen.

      With the feedback, let them know their:

      • strengths and weaknesses
      • what they’ll need to improve once they’re in the role.

      The chair also provides feedback to the unsuccessful short-listed candidates.

      With this feedback, tell them:

      • where they were ranked and why
      • how they could strengthen their candidacy for similar roles.
    6. Before you can move from a conditional to formal offer to the preferred candidate:

      • have your board meet the candidate first to see if they think they’re a good fit to be your entity’s CEO
      • sight and confirm their qualifications
      • validate any other claims, awards or other eligibility you have set
      • conduct background checks such as police checks and security clearances
      • conduct pre-employment misconduct screeningExternal Link .

      The board chair:

      • makes the formal offer to the candidate
      • negotiates employment conditions with the candidate, based on the terms and conditions your board approved at the start of this process.

      If the preferred candidate doesn’t accept the role

      If the preferred candidate doesn’t accept the offer, the chair needs the board’s approval to make an offer to the second preferred candidate.

      This continues until a candidate accepts an offer.

      If no one accepts the role

      If none of the preferred candidates accept the offer, follow the contingency plan your board approved at the start of this process.

      The board should review why you weren’t able to appoint someone and address any issues, before you try to recruit again.

    Document your process and decisions

    Your recruitment sub-committee or board secretary must collect and securely store all the documents created as part of recruitment, such as:

    • the position description
    • advertisements for the role
    • candidate application material
    • notes made during interviews and referee checks
    • notes on how candidates were ranked and why
    • the contract with its terms and conditions
    • the letter of offer signed by the candidate
    • communication materials announcing the appointment.

    Further reading

    Get more prescribed public entity remuneration adviceExternal Link on:

    • remuneration bands for executives
    • executive remuneration guidelines.

    Reviewed 22 August 2022

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