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Start thinking like a Headhunter in 2016

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This post was first published on LinkedIn.


I learned a lot in 2015–via Magnet Agency, we broke into a few new industries for our growing search firm including clean-tech and online dating and deepened our work in AdTech by recruiting some incredible executives for some of the biggest hitters in this red hot space.

Takeaways: Recruiting is probably the hardest, certainly the most important, and likely one one the most expensive initiatives any business has to get right in order to succeed.  Whether you’re Google or The US Army, it’s definitely the ultimate cost center and who you put in play will make or break your mission.  Your people are your business and you and your employees to some degree need to strive to be as good at it as anyone in my profession doing this full-time–don’t underestimate the task, but don’t fear it either.

“Some people can do one thing magnificently, like Michelangelo, and others make things like semiconductors or build 747 airplanes — that type of work requires legions of people. In order to do things well, that can’t be done by one person, you must find extraordinary people.” –Steve Jobs

It’s seems obvious, but perceptions about recruiting astonish me, perhaps because it’s my chosen profession and I’ve seen so many mistakes made and so much disarray on alignment regarding organizational development, but one thing is for sure, it’s something every business and everyone in the business needs to think about every day.

Here are a few things I’m keeping mind as a Principal at Magnet Agency, where I’m an Executive Recruiter trying to help companies get the right people, and as a co-founder in my own Internet company, 1xRUN, where we did plenty of hiring, and unfortunately firing in 2015, and and as new angel investor who is realizing quickly that the companies I invest in need my recruiting advice as much as, if not more than my check.

I’ll paint this through a case study of a CTO search we successfully conducted last year.

Company X was a banner startup.  They’re in every article about rock star founders, every top 25 startups list.  They’ve got what looks like the early stage dream: north of 15M in the bank from top VCs and a nice valuation in a space ripe with constant acquisitions–all indications they are going to crush.

Their approach to recruiting at first was to hire friends–they’re red hot and think they know the best people or they’ll come to them.

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” 
Steve Jobs (who personally interviewed more than 5,000 Apple hires.)

Next, they rode the wave of press and posted their own jobs and tapped their new VC pals for intros–great tactic, if you’re lucky enough to get the right eyeballs to your job site and if your VC has time to moonlight as a headhunter. Hint here, the best people are probably not reading that vanity article or looking for jobs–they keep their potential search hush hush and have a trusted network they’ll leak their intentions to with no fear of confidentiality, the competition or current investors and internal teams getting wind, nor potentially affecting a stock price depending on their level.  They call people like us and say things like–“see anything cool happening in Ad Tech I should know about?  I’m ready for the CEO role and it’s not to going to happen here–I’m vested, I’ll have conversations.”  So don’t assume because the hot new VC gives you money that they know who’s looking either–that’s usually smoke in mirrors.. for candidates in high profile gigs, there are just too many risks in talking to too many connected people.  So the VC’s usually end up calling a couple of headhunters who have a track record and probably call up a few old friends–but it’s not a full on search in most cases.  In the case of this particular startup with 50 employees or so, once things got tough, they had troubles.  A competitor emerged completely blind-siding them.  Here’s how it played out.

Firstly, there’s panic in the air: nobody is playing ping pong anymore and LinkedIN pages get refreshed.  Secondly, the inbound traffic of resumes slows and the good resumes stop coming altogether.  Thirdly, they can’t fire the people that got them there because they have no strategy in place.  They can either throw in the towel, fire whoever screwed this up, start some confidential searches while the ship is running to replace people without firing them while recruiting their replacement, or just throw a bunch of money at bringing in more headcount to offset what turned out to be a bunch of B&C players across sales, engineering, and product or whatever fire it is they’re putting out that second–in this case, it was emergency surgery on every organ of the company at once.

Before they got to us, they went with the most common, and most ridiculous approach, at least for finding A players, Contingency Recruiting–if you need summer help or someone at the front desk, it might actually work.  Here’s why otherwise, it doesn’t.

They’ve now given complete strangers, in most cases, ability to recruit for their company any way they see fit to the exact people they don’t want, to represent their culture, for better or worse on the street, be the gatekeepers to their world, and get as many resumes to their hiring managers as they can to get a fee.  With contingent recruiting, they haven’t paid those firms a dime.  They will definitely not be working the search as if they had been paid to get it right.  They might not even work it for more than a week:  they’ll shower hiring managers inboxes with resumes, spray and pray, say who knows what to get people in the door, and also send those same candidates to 10 other companies, and when they don’t get a hire, they’ll give up.  I know I would..

“If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.”Jack Welch

Contingent recruiting is like finding an apartment in Manhattan–if you make the mistake of crawling around with 10 random brokers vs a trained pro who has the real goods, you’ll regret it–I learned that one myself the hard way getting my first digs chasing craigslist ads that didn’t ever pan out–Painful beyond words.

They found this out the hard way, and all of NYC knew they were in pain–word travels fast in this town.  So they disconnected the 25 recruiters sending them sub par, easy grab, candidates who will only worsen the pain, and called us to conduct a singular, targeted, trusted search as their partner–and paid us a proper retainer to own this problem and be accountable for the hire.

Over 1000 profile reviews on our end before submitting less than 10 candidates after interviewing them via phone, assuring confidentiality, writing full briefs, meeting them in person before sending them to the client so as not to waste our time or theirs, they got the hire they wanted.  The difference in the method of recruiting is obvious–we’ve been been paid already and we have a replacement guarantee, so we have to get it right.  It does us no good to try to slide one past them at this critical stage.  We nail it and just in time.

“I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.” Lee Iacocca

4 weeks later, 1/3rd of the company is on the street thanks to the irrefutable data our candidate was able to uncover about the problems in the organization.  Had they called us when they were on the precipice of a battle like this before the cannonball went through the hull, a candidate like this would have saved them time and headache and they’d probably have yachts by now.

Hopefully people from all sides of the fence can take something from this.  My 2016 goal in business is to hone my craft, especially with regards to picking the right clients and diving even deeper into uncovering candidate motivations and to add real value to the field of Executive Search in this ever changing economy, regardless of whether or not it’s my company or my search, to the NYC community by helping founders understand how critical search is, and how recruiting needs to be something everyone in the company is mindful of, either via social media or when they head to happy hour and beyond.

Don’t just take it from me.  Here’s some quotes that come to mind on the subject.

Happy Hunting,


“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.”Bill Gates

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