Recruiting Top Talent
I have been dithering on writing this blog since a good friend of mine, Paul Dodd at Head2Head Recruiting sent me Jeff Bussgang's article, "Startups Need To Hire A Recruiter…Now" in May. While I agree with a lot of what Jeff is saying, I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me about his advice. Over the past few weeks, it crystallized. Doing what Jeff recommends is good, but it is not enough.
Over my career, I have indirectly or directly hired hundred's of employees. At one point, I had twelve full time recruiters plus a recruiting manager working for me. I regularly advise my clients on their recruiting practices and occasionally directly participate in their hiring efforts. As well, I routinely refer about a half-a-dozen people per year from my large network of professional connections, into VP or "C" level roles in companies I know.
So here is what is bugging me about Jeff's advice: If you do everything he recommends, you can still come up with zeros. An Executive Recruiter, no matter how good they are, does not run your company. Companies need to own their recruiting process, an external recruiter can't. Here is an example of where I see things going wrong. An external recruiter presents an outstanding candidate. The company blows it by:
1. Not reacting fast enough.
If you are a top talent candidate, you generally know it and probably have an ego. If the company ignores you for a few days or a week before getting back to you, it negatively colours your opinion of them.
The Solution: free up managers to react quickly. When I had twelve recruiters, they had access to managers' calendars to book priority meetings so "hot" candidate interview s came first.
2. Not reacting correctly
If you are hiring a senior person or a specific technical skill set and their first contact with your company is someone at a low level in HR, it will bother them. Again, if they are top talent, and if your recruiter has done their good job right, the candidate should be foaming at the mouth in terms of their interest. Don't dampen that interest by creating an inappropriate initial first impression of your organization. Connect them to someone who will accelerate their enthusiasm in joining not someone who will at best postpone that interaction.
The Solution: put your best foot forward…first. If you want to keep a top talent prospective excited, have their first contact with the company be with the CEO or senior executive responsible for that area. Who this is will depend on the size of your company, but in a start-up, it better be someone who speaks for the company and has the vision and passion to sell the "pitch".
3. Not properly checking reference.
I don't delegate reference checking to an executive recruiter. For a senior person, I would also never delegate it to HR. I also rarely ask for references. If they give them to me, I generally ignore them unless I know and trust their references. Instead, I use LinkedIn to find someone that I know and trust and ask them about the candidate. Failing that, I use LinkedIn to find old bosses and cold-call them. In the worst case, I ask the candidate to provide me with the name and contact information of every boss they have had and I randomly cold-call a few. The reason I do this myself is two-fold. First, I want to check out their story. Second and more important, I want to have a manager to manager conversation about how I manage this person: their strengths, their weakness and their challenges.
4. Not recognizing or reacting to the Fulcrum
In every sales transaction (and recruiting is a sales transaction of selling the candidate to join your company), at some point, the buyer (your company) wants to buy the solution (the candidate) more than the seller (the candidate) needs to sell themselves. This point of inflection is the Fulcrum. At this point, you need to close the candidate, quickly. Get them emotionally committed to your company and not considering other opportunities. Then drown proof them! If they are currently working for another company, prepare them by taking them through what they will say when their boss counteroffers. If they are looking at other opportunities, understand what else they are looking at and position why you are a better fit. This will be unique for every company and every situation so I can't give you advice how to do this but you will need to figure this out.
Jeff has a lot of great advice but ultimately your success will depend on you, in conjunction with your recruiter. Your recruiter can't do it alone.