When you’re looking for someone to hunt down new customers, land a million dollar partnership, find new investors or land the best executive talent, you need someone special. You need someone who will take up your cause and fight for it - sometimes against fierce competition and in the face of incredible odds. This person must be resourceful, diligent, and fearless.
Many would describe this ideal person as aggressive.
In tech hubs across North America, the success of innovation ecosystems hinge on start-up culture, where ideas and creativity that are free to blossom without the constraints of politics, red tape or inertia that exist within most big companies. And as these small and nimble companies emerge we see that they can disrupt existing markets, offering compelling solutions to customers, and exciting career opportunities for top talent, making it tough for large companies to compete.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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