CEOs and leadership teams speak about how people are their greatest asset. One would think that in pursuit of their prized assets, there would be a structured and reliable way to make informed decisions about who to hire.

Judging by the processes Fortune 500 companies and others follow to hire executives, it seems like they’re not entirely sure what they’re doing. From outdated, unreliable competency question frameworks to psychometric tests that have no scientific validity, it is little wonder that it’s often left to guesswork and gut feel to make such important hiring decisions.

This book aims to do three things. Firstly, review what over 100 years of social science has taught us about what we should be looking out for in executive talent acquisition. Secondly, it aims to dissect what is wrong with how we currently approach executive hiring. Finally, it proposes an entirely new interview and selection framework based on four new dimensions of leadership and 12 related traits.

The goal is to replace outdated competency interviews and guesswork, or at the very least, to encourage readers to start questioning everything about how they currently approach executive talent acquisition.

Written by Fraser Hill who has spent his twenty year career living and working all over the world, from Asia to Eastern Europe, the UK, Canada and now the USA, advising and headhunting leadership teams in Fortune 500’s and high growth companies.


1. Psychology Isn’t Rocket Science

There are certain rules in psychology studies that do not apply to the traditional scientific world, and you cannot form any kind of objective view on this without some foundational understanding of what these rules are, and more importantly, what these rules are not. In rocket science, laws of physics and mathematics are governed by a set of calculated principles that are exact. “Roughly” or “approximately” doesn’t cut it when you’re building a rocket. In the world of psychology, however, “roughly,” “approximately,” or even “sometimes” can be enough proof to get a paper published and then have it quoted in various credible outlets as “facts.” The aim of this section is twofold. Firstly, it is to help you understand how these studies are conducted, so you can be more objective in any assumptions you make in the future when you hear about such studies being mentioned. Secondly, it is to walk you through some of the processes and references I used to develop the Bremnus Leadership Success Model, which is the basis for the proposed interview framework.

2. Intelligence – IQ And EQ

It is widely regarded that intelligence is the major contributing factor to one’s potential for success in life. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. That is not to say it is the only factor, and there certainly isn’t a straight linear correlation between degrees of intelligence and success. There are a lot of mistruths out there about intelligence, though, and this section goes into the history of its origins and weights up what is really important about it as it relates to performance in the workplace. In fact, I propose in this section that the threshold of intelligence required to do most jobs is far less than we are led to believe, and as such, it is not great interview processes that lead companies to continue to hire great people. It is, in fact, the overabundance of sufficiently smart and trainable people who are motivated to succeed in life that is important. Success cannot be achieved with intelligence alone, but does EQ even exist? We also explore this in great detail.

3. Personality And Leadership

It has been said that the only two real things that have been discovered by psychologists are intelligence and personality traits. The only credible taxonomy of personality traits that exists is the Big Five personality traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Individually we float between differing degrees of these five traits, and they do not fully explain personality, but they are as close as we’ve come to an explanation, so they provide a workable baseline upon which to build some observations. In this section, you will learn all about these and how they relate to leadership performance. Central to these, in my view, is the Openness trait, linked to creativity, curiosity, problem-solving, and intelligence. You will also learn how they were first derived, as this is important in understanding the Extraview and Bremnus leadership model with the trait and facets which all link back to these Big Five personality traits.

4. Intuition And Biases

When you first approach the subject of intuition, it’s a tough one to get started on. There are so many definitions of what intuition is to begin with. Then, once you establish that intuition is real, you run into clashes with heuristics and biases, and you’d be forgiven for just giving up and never trusting your intuition. This section is a must-see for anyone convinced that your unconscious biases are corrupting our everyday behaviors. It explores the scientific origins of cognitive biases and looks at the awful and pernicious Implicit Association Test or IAT. This is the test that claims to measure our unconscious bias as it relates to prejudiced behaviors. If you’ve ever been on unconscious bias training that’s included a test, this is the test,  yet quietly, even the authors now admit that, quote, “Attempts to diagnostically use such measures for individuals risk undesirably high rates of erroneous classifications” It’s not valid, it’s not reliable, and it has no place in the corporate training world.

5. Theory And Candidate Selection

This section covers the academic research that’s been done into the actual process of candidate selection. In it, we look at the origins of the differences between structured and unstructured interviews and why this difference is important. We look at studies that have been that historically look at nineteen different way that companies have been known to assess candidates and their related validity. We look at a study that was done that sought to find out how closely aligned the beliefs of HR practitioners are with some of the better-known research into different areas relating to HR. The purpose of this section is to make sure none of the relevant theory was missed, but also to demonstrate how little work has been done into the process of candidate selection, which confirms how important it was for us to try and tackle this difficult subject matter of landing leaders and trying to hire the CEO’s greatest assets.

6. Preparing To Land Leaders

The candidate is there to try and win the job, and the company should also be viewing it as an opportunity to win the candidate. How prepared are the interviewers to give the candidate a positive interview experience? How well aligned are each of the interviewers in terms of what is asked, what is measured, and what the desired outcomes are? This module is about getting everyone involved in the hiring process  aligned to deliver a consistent message to articulate the company vision, goals, and values and how they translate down through the organization. Why should someone work at your company? If my response to your answer is “Yes, well, so do your competitors,” then you need to be thinking about a different answer. Finally, we look at creating a success profile and why this is different from a job spec or job ad. These are all the necessary steps we should be taking as a company before interviewing anyone.

7. Why All Companies Are Bad At Hiring

Here we cover in great detail what I believe to be the seven failures of experienced hire candidate selection: the interviewer, the interview structure, the questions, How we judge the answers, Is experience even important, influencing others during the process, and the corrupt business of reference checking. There’s not enough room in a minute to summarise everything here, but candidates only have one story. Everything that the interviewer needs to know about the candidate is contained in their  one story. What makes the difference is how much of the stories the interviewer is able to extract and analyze in a meaningful way. Competency interviews, still used by all companies, couldn’t be more bias-laden or unfit for purpose if they tried. I explore that in great detail. I also go on to explore the fallacy of the A, B, C player narrative and why the current interview structure and STAR method and the SHRM guidelines on interviewing fall way short of what we should expect in a pro- DE&I selection process.

8. What To Look For – The Bremnus Method

The Bremnus assessment method is a new framework for assessing leadership candidates. It can be traced back to the relevant and important science outlined in the science section. The same cannot be said for any other interviewing model that exists today. The end goal is to show and validate a model and evaluation process that I believe should replace the out-of-date competency interviews still used by most companies today. Later in the science section, we cover the famous big five personality traits and how they came to be. The focus here is on the Bremnus Big Four Leadership Traits and Facets, which was developed as a result of our eight-year-long study encompassing over 1700 leadership interviews.

In this diagram, you will see what this part really focuses on. I go into great detail about each of these traits and facets, how they are defined, why they exist, how they came to be, and also how they overlap with the scientifically robust big five personality traits.

9. How To Find It – The Extraview

This is where the practical theory learned in the other sections is brought together and put into practice. This is where you learn the meaning behind the 27 questions that make up this interview methodology. The extraview does a lot more than your standard interview. It’s like an interview, but extra. You see, leadership boils down to two things – making decisions and relationships. When we map those two things onto our 16 traits and facets, we are able to provide a meaningful evaluation of leadership competence. Candidates only have one story. Here we break down the questions into macro and micro questions that help the candidate have a better interview experience. When the interview moves from a series of competency questions to this new interview process, it immediately moves from being a bias-laden highlight reel of impressive anecdotes to being a rich investigation into the whole story.

10. How To Change – The People Agenda

For companies who truly want to take their senior talent acquisition seriously, and by seriously, I don’t mean they get an RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) solution and a set of LinkedIn Recruiter subscriptions, things have to change. In the last ten to fifteen years, at least, internal talent acquisition teams have been growing at an incredible pace, with some Fortune 500 companies now having hundreds of internal recruiters. While this may seem like great progress, there still exists a sizable vacuum between the C-suite narrative about people being the greatest asset and the cost-saving focus on the internal recruiting function. Of course, cost-saving should be a focus, but like anything that ends up getting too cheap, at some point along the axis of cheapness, things really get cheap, as does the quality, and we’re seeing the effects of this today. This section outlines how and why we need to change the internal people sourcing agenda.

About The Author

Fraser Hill - Bremnus

Fraser Hill, spent twenty years working all over the world in executive search and leadership advisory. On his travels, whether it was working for a Fortune 500 or a high growth startup, he observed the same candidate selection process. Different interviewers asking different questions with different agendas and different biases.

Competency behavioral interviews became popular where candidates can handpick the best examples from their career at random, which does nothing to tell the full story. Then AI, gamification of psychometric tests, and video interviews arrived. He thought that moving a poor interview process onto video doesn’t solve the issue of poor interview structure.

In 2012 he embarked on an eight-year research project that included over 1700 executive leader interviews and culminated in the publication of this book, The CEO’s Greatest Asset – The Art and Science of Landing Leaders.

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