Today’s software industry continues to experience enormous growth. This is largely due to the increased need for more streamlined cloud-based solutions in just about every industry, with healthcare and financial services being the largest consumers of new innovative SaaS products and services.  In response, new SaaS companies are being launched every day creating disruptive technology that is transforming entire industries.

On the technical side, the appetite for specialized skills such as software engineering, DevOps, and cyber security far exceeds supply. On the business side, experienced leaders, software sales executives and product managers are also receiving competing offers.  Market and growth-driven software companies know that attaining the best talent is a competitive advantage, since speed-to-market of these products and services is crucial to business success.

For these reasons, we are seeing software company CEOs becoming much more intimately involved in the hiring process at all levels. Candidates are vetting employers as much as potential employers are evaluating them.  A positive interview with the company’s CEO can make the difference in the offer they accept.

So whether you are a software engineer, a product manager or a software sales professional, chances are exceedingly good that you will interview with the CEO of the company at some point in the interview process.  And if you are a software company trying to attract the best talent in the market, and you are not currently involving your CEO in the hiring process, think twice.  The CEO’s involvement could prove to be the competitive differentiator you need to win the war on attaining this specialized talent.

For over 20 years, we have specialized in the hiring needs of software companies.  Our clients range from well-funded startups to global Fortune 500, and we place software company executives, engineers and software sales and marketing executives.

More often than not, our more strategic clients are involving the CEO in the hiring process and gaining competitive ground by doing so. This is especially true of start-up to mid-size software companies; but even our larger clients are beginning to make this strategic investment of their CEO’s time for critical hires.

In our experience, below are the top twelve candidate attributes that come to play when software company CEOs get involved in that final phase of a hiring decision.  These are not ranked in order of importance.

  1. Critical Thinking Skills – Ability to think smart and fast.  No matter at what level, software company CEOs want people that are innately good at analyzing and solving problems in a creative way leading to intelligent decisions, and ideally innovation in the process.
  2. Ability to build relationships – even for technical hires such as software engineers, building relationships sideways, up and down the organization is critical to promotability which is important to CEOs.
  3. Confidence – ability to handle tough questions with ease, and to come across with credibility.  This includes smaller things like posture, a good handshake, and staying on topic with composure.  This applies especially for client-facing roles.
  4. Personality and Drive – CEOs look for people who have an above average level of energy and are passionate about what they do.  They also want people that are self-driven and don’t need to be micro-managed.
  5. Strategy combined with Execution – Regardless of the role, there is always room to do things better, so having vision and being creative and strategic are important to a CEO.  But equally important, is to not be such a high-level thinker that you lose sight of the details needed to execute or to lead others to get the job done.
  6. Personal integrity – CEOs like to know that they can trust you will do the right thing when faced with difficult decisions.
  7. Experience and related accomplishments – While experience is important, more important is that you can demonstrate the results of that experience through key accomplishments.
  8. Written and verbal communication skills – this is pretty basic and expected, but more important is the ability to communicate new ideas and inspire others.
  9. Innate leadership skills – CEOs look for new hires that have what it takes to move up the organizational chart, and this requires leadership ability even when working within a team starting as an individual contributor.
  10. Ownership mentality – CEOs want you to think like them, to be accountable and own the situation and always be thinking of costs, opportunities, and revenue expansion.
  11. Professionalism – from the very first interaction, you will be judged on your demeanor and professional presence.
  12. Dependable – CEOs want to make sure you are not only reliable and accountable for your work, but also self-monitoring.

Lastly, software CEOs care a lot about skills, but in the end, when you have two top contenders for the job with equally strong skills, cultural fit is the differentiator that will take the winning candidate into the offer stage.

In future articles, we will expand on several of the attributes listed here with a deeper look at for example, what “cultural fit” really means.

If you are a software company CEO, we would love to hear your thoughts about any other attributes you’d add to the list.  And if you are a tech professional who has recently interviewed with a software company CEO, we would love to hear about your experience.

Top 12 Job Candidate Attributes Software CEOs look for