Voigt admits he was concerned that opening the corporate kimono might give away too much competitive information. But in the end, he believed the benefits would outweigh the potential costs. “The process needed to match the company, and this worked well for us,” he says.
The Candidate Pool
About 300 candidates responded to Johnston’s posting. He quickly whittled them down to 29 with the aid of a piece of paper on which he had scrawled a short list of critical characteristics, such as consumer-brand experience and the ability to be a thoughtful partner to the CEO. People with investment-banking or consulting backgrounds were particularly appealing.
“We could eliminate half without much thought, but others we gave more care to,” says Johnston. “You could imagine that anyone could be the best fit, but it’s better when you’re dealing with large numbers to be a bit more mechanical in the beginning.”
Next, Johnston e-mailed the 29 to tell them several things: they were in the top 10% of candidates, they needed to write an essay explaining why they wanted the job, the nonnegotiable salary for the position, and first- and second-round interview dates.
Setting a specific salary number up front was unusual for King Arthur, comments Voigt, since the company usually offers a range when hiring. But Johnston says a single number helps filter the applicant pool. “If I’m talking to people at different pay levels, then [in effect] I’m doing several different searches,” he explains. Indeed, three candidates dropped out at that point because of the pay.
As for prescheduled interview dates, Johnston says having them raises the level of commitment from candidates, while allowing interviewers to arrange their schedules ahead of time. (He did make other arrangements for one candidate who couldn’t make a prespecified date, however.)
Johnston’s favorite part of the search process is the essay. “That stage doesn’t take a lot of effort,” he says. “It puts the candidate in the driver’s seat, and they know it’s worth it.”
Of the 24 candidates who responded to the e-mail and submitted an essay, 14 stood out. This stage of the selection process was more subjective, Johnston admits — “I pick the ones I like best” — but a red flag flew up if a candidate wrote a long response with little reference to the job description. “I want people who are going to link who they are to the client,” he says.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Johnston conducted one-hour phone interviews of each of the remaining candidates. The next day, he drove from his home in Massachusetts to meet with Voigt in Norwich. The two spent the better part of that day going over Johnston’s interview notes and deciding whom to bring in for first-round interviews on the following Monday, November 30. In total, seven candidates were asked back: all six from Johnston’s “favorites” list and a seventh who interested Voigt.