Demonstrating numeracy and commercial acumen is also key. For candidates about to meet a CEO, being able to talk and ask questions about the P&L, cash flow and balance sheet as well as the strategy is welcomed. Time spent in a P&L role is rare but prized.
In terms of variety of working experience, it is often hard to place candidates for very senior roles who have remained with a single company for their entire career. Whilst this may seem unfair to the loyal, there is a perception of a risk that such an individual may not find it easy to settle in a new culture. As a result, most clients like to see two or three companies on the CV, ideally with a good track record of internal promotion in each. Too many moves later in the career is typically viewed with some caution.
With all these constraints, some may despair that the chances of getting the top job are very slim. There is some consolation. First, most clients are reasonably sector agnostic. So long as a candidate has worked on similar challenges elsewhere (e.g. M&A, growth or restructuring), there is generally less concern about where that experience was gained.
Second, on any search there are typically only few candidates that meet every criteria in the ideal profile. Coupled with the tendency for most CEOs to prize a personality fit as much as an experiential one, then there is hope for the candidate to form such a positive connection that it outweighs one or two gaps.
Finally, the most important advice I can offer any aspiring HR Director is to become truly curious; open-minded and keen to learn and develop. Whatever their background or credentials, the most impressive senior HR professionals I have ever met have always been the most curious. It is an energising and inspirational quality that will impress headhunters and CEOs alike.