You may have woken up this morning with an anxious feeling about the 50 live vacancies in your business, that just aren’t disappearing. Perhaps you are engaged in a search process or two and are wrestling with offers being rejected or candidates moving so fast through other processes, that you just don’t have the time to decide whether they are the right person for you. Hiring for growth businesses is tough at the best of times, but a new war has broken out that has taken many founders by surprise. Its time to arm up and prepare yourself for the war for talent 2.0.
Here’s how you win.
Battle strategy is everything.
Investing time up front in knowing what you are looking for and what is a fit for your business and culture is never time wasted. Too few venture-backed businesses spend time on identifying their core DNA – the things that make an employee successful in their company. In a hot talent market fuelled by funding rounds never previously seen in Europe, there are simply not enough experienced candidates for the number of available roles.
In practical terms, this means you may have to make some compromises. Businesses are often hiring candidates who are taking a step up and meet 70% of the requirements. Or candidates are moving into the venture market from other careers or more scaled companies. Do your homework on your company’s DNA so you know which compromises you are willing to make, and which you are not. Start thinking about the characteristics that have proven successful for you in the past so that you have a clear hiring framework to rely on.
Here’s a checklist of things you might want to include when assessing your DNA:
- Have previous hires from big companies worked out, or have you only made great hires from early-stage businesses?
- Side note: if everyone on your team has a background in early-stage business, often hiring from a bigger company can compliment the group skillset perfectly.
- How attached are you to a candidate’s academic background? Let’s not forget that Bill Gates doesn’t have an undergraduate degree, and there are numerous similar other examples.
- What are your values and how are you assessing candidates for them? Having the ‘wow’ culture factor can mean so many different things to different people, so getting clear on what this means to you is critical.
- How are you approaching remote work? You may have your sights set on having everyone back in the office, so hiring remotely isn’t possible, or you may be willing to hire someone fantastic who can only be in the office once every few weeks.
No one goes to war with a blunt sword.
In a competitive market the differentiators can be the good vs bad Glassdoor review; the slightly odd organisation structure that doesn’t quite fit with market norms; or the under market or unusual equity structure. Sharpen your sword appropriately so that you are prepared for the fight. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must have everything perfectly lined up, but you need to understand what your quirks/downsides are and address them head-on so that candidates know you’re working to fix them (and that if they join your company, they’ll be able to help).
Have the right people in your army.
If you are using search partners or recruitment partners, do your due diligence and pick the right partner but remember that in this climate you may also need to sell to them. Ensure they have the network and the reach to support you in a competitive landscape. Make sure they have the capacity to support you and aren’t conflicted in other processes. Plan ahead and be prepared to queue – most search firms with experience in this space have a waiting list at the moment.
Here at Erevena we’ve seen large increases in requests to pitch for business, with inbound requests direct to Erevena from founders or hiring managers increasing threefold (between April-Jun 2019 and April-Jun 2021), and new searches from existing clients and introductions from VC/PE funds both nearly doubling.
The best talent partners in funds will have trusted relationships with firms that they use across the portfolio and the depth of those relationships will help you navigate the queue. You need the best soldiers in your army when you go into the field.
Take the advice of your war council.
Your investors, and your recruitment advisors have seen these markets before. They will all have experienced bear and bull markets and one’s approach must adapt to the different climates. They will give you advice on the right process for hiring. Hopefully, they will share data with you on the market, your options, and your talent universe. Engage in the data, take the time to understand the market you are operating in, and listen to the advice they are giving you. Spending months in failing recruitment processes, because you don’t want to compromise, or revise your salary expectations will come with a large opportunity cost. Trying to save £10k now will be a drop in the ocean when you raise your next round of £10m++. Every hire has strengths and weaknesses, and you may need to compromise on your journey to save time spent on looking for the perfect hire at an acceptable price point. When your gut and the market data tell you that you have found someone good enough, do what you need to do to close them and move on to the next challenge.
Treat your enemy with respect.
There are a lot of fantastic companies out there (what a pleasure it is to be able to say that about European tech!). Funding rounds have never been better. Innovative digital and SaaS propositions are abundant across the continent. You are not the only show in town. Passion and humility are essential in any hiring process and the very best candidates will have a choice of employer at any level of hiring. Their experience of your business will both determine your reputation in the market, the trickle down of that narrative to different levels of hiring. Poor experience becomes a narrative for others to use in the battle. Don’t give your enemy unnecessary ammunition, and remember that aside from pitching to investors, persuading world-class candidates that your company is a great move for them may be the biggest sale you have to make in your career.
Understand that you as a leader are the single most important influence on success or failure in this fight.
Every army needs a leader. Your advisors are just that – they can share the wisdom of their experience, but you are ultimately making the decisions. Your hiring team (internal, investor and external partners) will respond to the leadership you give them. If you lean into processes, go the extra mile to secure your candidate, listen actively, compromise rationally, and make your army feel part of the mission and goal, your results will be exponentially better. In a tough market, your talent team, your search partners and your fund talent advisors will be working hard for every win. They will be hearing ‘no’ from candidates many more times than they will hear ‘yes’. They will be being gazumped. Help them help you. Hiring is a team sport and a group responsibility. A demoralised army rarely wins the fight.
How you navigate this talent market will have a material impact on your company’s destiny. With a sharp sword in hand, lead on to success!