I still remember the call. An HR Manager rang me a few years ago to say that her company had a no-headhunting policy. Not only did they refuse to pitch their opportunities to individuals who were already employed, but it was 'against the rules for other companies to speak to their people.' I found this shockingly naive and quite silly! It also came as no surprise that this company was struggling to stay alive in fierce talent market.
When I started in recruitment, companies would train receptionists to block recruiters’ calls, and ensure that Monster and Workopolis were banned from company internet. But these days recruiting messages are everywhere. It is impossible and impractical to block LinkedIn, Twitter, or to halt conference attendance and rendezvous’ with former colleagues and miscellaneous strangers in coffee shops.
If you are losing top talent to the competition, it is logical to want to keep headhunters at bay. But the truth is your people have lives that extend beyond your four walls. In reality, trying to keep your people from connecting with headhunters is like building a fence around your yard to keep the birds in.
Your best employees are probably not out there actively looking for a new job. They are too busy working, and solving problems, and networking on behalf your company. As your people evangelize your business, and get into the community to learn and grow professionally, you benefit – even though it makes them more visible.
The top headhunters have the tools and the networks to find your most talented people – and your brightest stars have free will and are clever enough to entertain a conversation. Your best people are not only talking to headhunters, they are likely helping them! They are learning about your competitors and evaluating the teams, the technologies and the opportunities in the greater market. If you've done a good job providing them with the environment and challenge they desire, all of this could actually benefit your company.
The trick is not to hide your people from the headhunters
You have to make sure that your employees will always choose you even when they know what other options exist – because they just can’t imagine being more fulfilled somewhere else.
If the headhunters are circling, it means that your people are the envy of your competition. Congratulations!
But …if your people are never recruited it is not because you have a great ‘no-headhunting’ policy. It is because you have mediocre talent and maybe you need to deploy some good headhunters of your own.
I found this old post today, that I wrote back in 2009. The predictions are scary accurate, and the advice holds true!
There is talk lately about social media revolutionizing how companies recruit, with some concluding that we’re witnessing the end of the recruiting profession as we know it.
While I agree that social media will transform recruiting, I don’t think it will make things any easier
The arguments go like this:
Social media tools (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc.) will change the way companies find prospective employees. Search will be faster and more targeted.
Companies will use these tools to build relationships with pools of highly qualified individuals (who might work for them tomorrow or sometime in the future).
Here’s my take on how things will look and work after this big online wave washes over us.
What happens when everyone can find anyone
Imagine a utopia where everyone has a detailed online profile. Every recruiter will be able to ‘see’ all of the talent and companies will have equal opportunity to market to candidates.
A world like that will soon be overflowing with competing messages.
Generating a targeted message that will be heard above the noise will become increasingly difficult – and more critical. More than ever before, companies will compete for the top people in every industry.
The war for talent will rage, but it will do so in an online world.
How to win an online war for talent
The companies that attract talent will be those who:
A) Deliver a compelling story
Recruiting great people will be like marketing and selling a product. A company’s message will not be the only one that candidates hear. HR will need to borrow strategies from PR.
Companies will need to understand what motivates talented people and offer a ‘product’ (aka job description and career page) that gets them excited. For instance:
Will they work with leaders and innovators? Will they build revolutionary products or solve meaningful problems?Will they be challenged professionally and be given opportunity to grow?
Remember, these people will probably be happily employed elsewhere. In order to entice them, the company must offer a compelling opportunity. And the product message must be delivered professionally by real people who can answer tough questions.
Finding the best candidates will be easier, but attracting them will be more difficult.
Companies will also need to . . .
B) Build long-term relationships with future candidates
Smart companies will stop looking at recruitment as a reactive process characterized by bursts of frantic activity.
Social media tools will enable companies to build an engaged audience of individuals interested in their message and their vision.
Teams will be built based on the value great people can bring, rather than qualifying against a grocery list of skills and keywords.
Many Recruiting Companies and Recruiters will Drown
I am actually hopeful that a big wave of change is coming in the world of recruitment. I won’t miss the high-churn personnel agencies selling mediocre talent to desperate companies, or the recruitment departments that act more like purchasing teams than sales teams.
In many ways this apocalyptic change will be good. The new world of recruiting will be smarter, faster and tougher. The role of the recruiter will change.
As in every apocalypse, only the resourceful will survive.
We’ve heard it a million times. With an abundance of job openings for the exceptional 90th percentile, every ad for tech talent looks and sounds the same: a list of demands sandwiched between flowery sentences describing creative work environments, snazzy perks, and products that will disrupt billion dollar markets.
Since I started recruiting in tech more than 15 years ago, little has changed. To the talented individuals you’re looking to attract, your job ad is nothing but noise. I firmly believe that expecting success from a posting alone is insane, but I'll save that for another day. Invariably, a job profile of some sort fits into your overall strategy to hire for any role. And a bad one will sabotage all other efforts.
Why are job ads so wrong?
Most companies forget that a job description and a job ad are two different things.
Often written by a hiring manager, job descriptions are intended to communicate to the team the specific responsibilities and duties that a new employee will perform. They typically include a list of skills, experience and knowledge required to do the job well.
The job description tells us "what's in it for the company":
What will the new employee do for us?
What does the new employee need to know and be really good at in order perform the tasks listed in above.
It’s likely full of technical jargon and obvious catch-alls like “must be a team-player.” In most cases, it’s generic enough that it can be cut and pasted for every similar job opening for the next 3 years.
Often, the writing of a job description is a painful and rushed exercise. The result is something resembling a purchase order.
This approach to a job description is actually not wrong. Of course every search for a new teammate starts by identifying what needs to be done and by whom. What is wrong is that companies usually stop here and use this document as an ad.
So, what the heck is a job ad?
A good job ad is a marketing tool. It is designed to attract and engage your ideal candidate. It is honest and inspiring. Most importantly, it focuses on "what's in it for the candidate".
Use these questions to get you started:
- What exciting project/product/strategy will I be working on?
- What will I be working on in the first 60-90 days, and what can I expect to learn?
- Is this somewhere I’ll make a big impact on a market/company/technology?
- Describe the leaders and teammates I’ll work with, are they smart, fun and inspiring?
- What other interesting challenges will I get to tackle?
- Describe the market opportunity. How does this role impact business objectives?
What will make them excited enough to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to you? This is a marketing exercise. It needs to be full of excitement, authenticity and truth— no cheese, no fluff. You need to know your intended audience, and then give them a genuine summary of what you can do for them and how they’ll truly make an impact as a member of your team.
As I saw the conversations pop up across social media related to International Women's Day, I'm compelled to add some of my experience to the dialogue.
This article in particular, 14 Rules for Being a Woman in Business, does a great job of highlighting the fact that the problem of gender inequality in senior roles is still big on a global scale, but that there many great ways to get yourself into the critical minority. This piece spoke to leadership roles across all industries, but in the tech sector specifically, we know that the numbers of women in leadership roles looks at least this bad - or maybe worse.
It would be easy to conclude, that most CEO's have a bias against hiring women into senior roles - that they systematically ignore qualified female job applicants in favour of their masculine peers. I think this is totally false.
From my seat, as an advisor to tech companies looking to hire leaders and other scarce and talented teammates, I see something that probably comes as a surprise. In almost EVERY SINGLE SEARCH we take on, there is an unprompted and quite serious request that we focus on finding a woman for the role. Each company wants first to find the most qualified person for the role, but assuming that we'll turn up at least a handful of exceptional options, they want us to put extra effort into ensuring that they have a few great women to choose from.
These jobs are not only in areas where you'd expect to find more women, in marketing or HR, but across the board, in engineering, finance, operations and sales. Our leaders know that they'll benefit from diversity in their board room, and that the great women moving up the ranks need and want role models.
It turns out that the demand for women in the top ranks of tech companies isn't the problem. In fact demand for our top female leaders far outstrips supply. The challenge, it seems to me, is not about limited opportunities, but rather a limited number of strong women who are ready, willing and able to move into senior jobs.
I know that pointing out this truth does not solve the problem. But perhaps it shifts the conversation just slightly.
If you are an exceptional woman who wants to pursue leadership, you have reason to be optimistic. The data and the anecdotal evidence show that your journey will not be easy, but if you can find your path, a few good mentors and some serious conviction, there are many great tech companies that will welcome you with open arms.
A lot can happen in two years, especially in the move-fast-and-break-stuff world of tech. In Kitchener-Waterloo, the tech scene is growing more robust by the second.
The past two years have seen the evolution of innovation outposts at Communitech, attracting big brands like GM, Fairfax, and Canadian Tire into the region to actively participate in the startup ecosystem. Add that to B and C series announcements ringing out every time you turn around, the 350-person Google engineering office, and more than 45 startups with a combined workforce of 800 people setting up in the downtown core.
And what’s a growing tech scene always hungry for? Talent.
It’s no coincidence that Artemis Canada was founded two years ago to support and help build the innovation ecosystem. With more than 15 years of recruitment experience, Kristina McDougall saw an opportunity to work with a laser-focus on executive search roles for tech startups in KW. “The needs of innovative companies are unique,” says McDougall. "They're moving fast and often require very specific skills and experienced leaders who will get them to the next big milestone ahead of their competitors. Being part of the Waterloo Tech ecosystem has been fascinating, as we've been able to partner with companies at all stages of their evolution - from development and commercialization of breakthrough technologies, to the building of serious enterprise technology businesses."
A clear reflection of the growing startup scene and it’s increasing need for A-player talent, Artemis has been growing right alongside it. With reach that expands across Canada and the US, the team recently moved to a new office in uptown Waterloo, a beautiful home renovated into a boutique office space.
Today, Artemis Canada is hosting an Open House for friends and partners in the community to celebrate 2 years of success and their move to a new office at 22 Regina Street N.
“This new space really reflects our personality. The team feels at home, and it's great for collaboration." says McDougall "We're also situated right in the heart of Waterloo - in the middle of a fascinating, fun and fast moving community. We can't predict what incredible innovations and businesses we'll be helping to build over the next decade, but we know for certain that we're in the right place for success."
I recently spoke about career growth to a group of women, all working for a successful and growing tech company. In the Q & A someone asked "What can I do if my manager doesn't give me the promotion or growth opportunities that I want?" This was a great question, but there was one word in there that lit me up.
No one is going to give you opportunity and growth. You have to go and take it. Ask for it. Prove yourself worthy of a challenging new task or project. Show that you have guts and ambition and that you can take initiative. If someone tells you that you can't, prove them wrong, or ask them flatly what you need to learn in order to be more qualified for the task.
This one little word is the difference between people who quickly accelerate their careers and those who sit back, waiting for success and opportunity to cclimb into their laps.
The companies that are really moving quickly value initiative and confidence. They don't have managers who focus solely on allocating work and delegating projects. Everyone is carrying a lot of responsibility, and often cool tasks get snapped up by the first person to offer help and get started.
But what if you do all of this, and your organization holds you back or tells you that they don't want or need your best, most creative energies. Well, it's obvious, this is not the place for you to thrive and grow. Your employer isn't moving fast enough or can't see that value that you bring. Now that you know this, go find another outlet. If you are in tech, and you're talented and keen, you are in demand.
Your best manager has just come into your office to resign. You quickly move through the shock, and denial phases and move right to bargaining … “Would you reconsider staying if we offered you …”. Someone once told you that extending a counter-offer is a bad idea, and that accepting one is worse. But what do they know. If you can just make this guy change his mind, everything will return to normal.
But can you really move past the disloyalty and the betrayal – knowing that he’s been having secret liaisons with your competition? Sure you can. Get real – it’s not quite like learning that your husband has a profile on Ashley Madison. So maybe you offer more money, a bigger title, cooler projects and a shiny new laptop. There, there … now it’ll all be ok.
Experience tells me that great people are pretty good at making decisions. They know how to evaluate opportunity and risk, and they don’t leap into greener pastures without first doing everything possible to make the best of their current situation. A good recruiter will have walked them through some scenarios, to be sure that staying put isn’t a viable option.
While a counter-offer could send a message that someone is in fact loved and wanted, it is always too little too late. If it takes a resignation to be awarded the compensation, recognition and fulfilling work that your people really deserve, you have bigger problems than this one empty seat.
Why not pre-empt the resignation entirely. Look around and imagine that each of your top employees is out there interviewing – it is a reasonable possibility. What can you do, and what should you do to make them stay. You need to ask them what they really want to be doing and what is important. It is probably not just about money, but about working with great people, on important projects and getting appropriate recognition. Now what can you change?
You might not be able to give every person what they want and need, but listening will go a long way. Then, if that manager still comes into your office to resign, you can be supportive in their decision and confident that you’ve done everything possible to keep them.
Last week we celebrated the Top 20 hottest startups in Canada at the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) conference. It was a packed event with entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders, all with one thing in common: a relentless passion to support local innovation.It was no surprise that Shopify was named CIX Innovator of the Year, an award given to a Canadian company that disrupts and transforms an industry in profound ways.The Top 20 represented a wide mix of industries, including everything from marketing, manufacturing, open data, location analytics, recruitment, robotics, financial services and customer service...to name a few! The full list of the impressive Top 20 can viewed here.
If you missed the event, here were some key takeaways:
Challenging traditional management practices: Leerom Segal, CEO and Co-founder of Klick Health, made a decision in his organization to ban email for internal communication. Sounds easy enough, but could you do it? They implemented a ticketing system instead and encouraged leaders to learn from data, and let technology be the coach. As another example, a video game company, Valve, decided to remove all titles and assign projects based on contribution. The result? The increased autonomy and accountability led to empowered employees making better decisions.
Moving from startup to serious- the Series B: Why is the Series B round more difficult than Seed Funding or a Series A? There needs to be a huge jump in progress, functionality and the ability for investors to participate in the upside. Companies raise a Series B to be a market leader, and they need to prove that they don’t need the cash in the short term- it’s for building long term relationships.
Canada vs. US, is there still an investment gap?: The experts say it seems to be lessening. The top tier US investors can still provide startups with a depth of network and knowledge that is hard to find elsewhere. However, a lot of the barriers have been removed (ie. startups do not have to move Canadian operations down to Silicon Valley anymore to get US funding) and Canadian funding is much more readily available.
FinTech is bringing sexy back: We saw the FinTech emergence last year with WealthSimple, a CIX Top 20 in 2014, with their low-cost wealth management platform. This year it was Plooto and Control in the payment processing space and Q4 Web Systems providing detailed analytics on the capital markets. What are the key drivers for the growth in FinTech? The panel spoke about three main factors: 1) There’s a higher level of trust needed for transactions, and consumers are okay with that (think Uber and Airbnb); 2) Tech is more accessible than ever before...everything is in the cloud and mobile making it easier to collect data and develop sophisticated algorithms; and 3) The financial sector has the largest profit pools of any industry, yet they are the slowest to innovate. There is a lot of disruption that could happen- but few are actually doing it.
Machine Learning is going to change the world: You can’t learn machine learning from a textbook, it’s a craft and way of thinking. There are more opportunities in machine learning and data science than there are people to fill them (we can attest to this!). Companies like Deep Genomics are solving problems about human disease that humans cannot solve. D-Wave Systems is mimicking human intelligence in machines….the future has arrived!
It was an impressive turnout and showcase of Canadian innovation, and we’re looking forward to seeing these businesses continue to grow!
If you’re interested in hearing podcasts with entrepreneurs from the 2015 Top 20 and previous recipients, check out Small Rooms.
These Tech Highlights were written by our friend Chris Wormald of IronHorse Angels. His goal is to provide you with a monthly primer on significant news events from private Waterloo-based technology companies in 5 minutes or less.
TritonWear have finalized their form factor and have beta agreements with two swim clubs.
The Voltera V-One is available for pre-order following their successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s a piece of innovative hardware that enables a prototyper to print a circuit board in minutes.
Neverfrost has 16 paid pilots going and remains on track for a v1 launch this fall.
DraftingSPACE has been acquired by BuildDirect.
MappedIn has launched with Canada’s largest retailer with product level search and turn-by-turn assistance. They are also live at Pacific Center in Vancouver.
Beagle has launched their beta product with a 30-day free trial. They now have an association with CodeX, the Stanford Law School Informatics program.
They will be demoing on July 10 at Microsoft’s demo day.
Ansik introduced PitStop an Uber for Auto repair. Plugging their connector into a car’s OBD2
port will produce a diagnosis and put your job up for mechanics to bid on. They also announced that they have been accepted to the Techstars Mobility accelerator in Detroit.
Shinydocs have just signed their 7th customer with average deal sizes north of $50k.
Magnet Forensics held an open house to show off their new digs, attracting a swath of politicians, tech leaders, customers and self proclaimed celebs.
Dejero continues to enable journalists to blend into the masses and report with familiar
devices, signing up BFM TV, (France) and TV TEM (Brazil).
In The Chat’s help desk platform powered the service desk at Call Center Week in Las Vegas.
Kik reports that since the March introduction of video chat, 7 million users have shared 110 million videos.
It’s official. We have a commercialization challenge in Canada’s tech sector. The government is quietly questioning the returns we get from the billions of subsidies pumped into business innovation. Technology and thought leaders are openly questioning the same thing (stories here, here, here and here). Even journalists are adding to the discussion.
How can Canada do such a great job of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation but fail so badly in the transition to sustaining commercial success in the tech industry? Like our national attitude towards the delivery of education and health care, does the focus of producing “good enough” for the masses disable the conditions required for sustaining greatness to emerge?
Sustained commercial success is not an infinite monkeys and infinite typewriters situation where something great magically pops up. So why do we hope for greatness from fledging tech companies when the conditions rarely exist for greatness to emerge? The Bay Area’s resilience comes from the quality of the top people who power the tech industry, not the quantity of companies. Many people seem to confuse cause and effect.
I recently read Scary Close by Donald Miller, an excellent and challenging book about a writer who resolved to drop the act in his search for true intimacy. In a similar vein, I really like Dan Herman’s thoughts and the courage TEC Edmonton shows by publishing their success and failures for all to see. We would benefit from more standardized
reporting systems like this.
I started this newsletter because I believe we need increased transparency and a better understanding of what’s really going on. There are great opportunities to produce global competitors if we find the right ingredients to support the right opportunities. Yet today, it feels like quantity remains the trump card that carries the hand. I’d like to help change that.
Looking ahead, the Velocity Fund Finals will be held on July 23 at UW. It’s a semi-annual event that’s worth attending.
Waterloo Tech Highlights is a communication initiative run by a group of experienced investors and strategists who would like to receive and share real news about the vibrant Waterloo, Ontario tech community.
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With the release of the new RIM/Blackberry tell-all Losing the Signal, the Canadian tech community is abuzz with chatter about the spectacular downfall of the local tech giant.
It seems that the former Research in Motion, now Blackberry, has been a local company that everyone loves to hate. Even when stocks were soaring and Blackberry devices were flying off shelves, the sentiment in the community was often negatively focused on how the giant was unfairly inflating salaries and poaching development talent from underdog start-ups. While the co-CEOs poured hundreds of millions of dollars into establishments like the Perimeter Institute, CiGi and University of Waterloo, we were more likely to read press reports of leadership mistakes or un-Canadian egos. As a nation of under-dogs, we were quick to criticize and view our homegrown success story as ‘the Man'.
And so this continues today, with an “I-told-you-so” attitude, as so many within our tech community reflect on the Blackberry situation and what they would have done differently if only someone had asked.
It would be really refreshing for someone to start talking about the success of Blackberry. Yes, we can certainly learn a lifetime’s worth of lessons through reflection on what caused the decline. But we really need to take a good look at what went right, and how the success of Blackberry has left the Waterloo Region and the Canadian economy much better off.
A group of Canadian innovators built a technology and created a market that changed the world and generated $Billions in economic impact. Wow.
More than 20,000 Canadians were employed at Research in Motion throughout it’s evolution, and are now armed with the experience of having been part of an incredibly successful global tech company. The value of these individuals to our economy is not dampened by the eventual decline of the business. The seeds of innovation and the appetite for big time success that these individuals now carry, is being sprinkled generously across every sector of the economy, and the impact will be profound.
So we should definitely congratulate all of the talented leaders who have been liberated by Blackberry and are now driving innovation and growth within local and global tech companies. But perhaps we should also send a note of thanks to the Research in Motion founders who were just brave and imperfect enough to build a billion dollar tech company in our own backyard.
We are a boutique executive search firm exclusively serving Canada’s Innovation Economy.
Our partners are the inventors, builders and leaders who are changing our world, enriching the lives of their teams, strengthening their communities and delivering valuable innovations to global marketplaces.
"I have worked closely with Kristina for approximately 15 years, reaching out to her whenever we are searching for the hardest to find skills. She understands the industry, she’s smart, she listens to exactly what we need, and she never wastes our time. Kristina, and the Artemis team, deliver time and time again. When we need an external recruiter, I find it hard to work with anyone else!"
Pete Devenyi, VP Global Software