Recruiting Senior Executives: Beer buddy or someone who gets the job done?

News Flash: The Silicon Valley recruiting process is broken. Not strained, not poised for a crash, but demolished with small parts strewn across the 280 Freeway with some parts as far away as El Camino Real.

There are many reasons the recruiting process is broken: Competition for talent is fierce. VC’s and C level staff at start-ups tend to be inexperienced and over confident about their hiring abilities. Start ups are focused on assessing market conditions and capital needs which makes analyzing the gaps of the management team difficult at best. However, the key reason the hiring process is broken is because companies hire inexperienced recruiters.

These inexperienced recruiters act as a gateway to your company and their lack of skill is costly. This mistake is keeping companies from getting access to some of the most experienced and talented candidates. From the many stories I hear, untrained recruiters are giving Silicon Valley a black eye and their lack of training promotes gender, race and age discrimination in hiring. Unfortunately many recruiters at start-ups and tech companies come directly from college, with no experience and no training AND worse, they have huge headcounts to fill in a limited amount of time. Lastly, so many of them approach candidates with arrogance and rudeness that is a complete turn off.

Numerous threads on the Internet and chat groups abound with recruiting stories that can make you cringe. One headhunter seeking a senior VP for a position told a candidate who had taken time off to be with her sick parent, “The best route for you is to start again as a secretary and work your way up.” Needless to say she walked out the door and a potentially viable candidate was lost.

Potential candidates grumble about the lack of critical questions. One recruiter from Twitch went into deep detail with a candidate about the games she watched on Twitch. He didn’t ask how she built divisions from scratch or what was her experience was in creating the #1 selling game of all time. He didn’t ask how many people she managed, what were the most critical aspects of a team building, or how to control costs. What did he really want to talk to her about? What her favorite game was. Maybe it helped him relate to her, but it certainly didn’t help him understand whether she could fill the role needed at Twitch.

It is not these recruiters fault. How can we expect a young, inexperienced employee to recognize and understand the specific roles of senior executives without that deeper knowledge and capacity? How can someone begin to recruit for a business development job without understanding what is expected of this person, and whether there is an internal or external legal team to help him or her get these deals done?

What ends up happening in these scenarios is the “Buddy System.” Recruiters bring in candidates they feel comfortable with, like someone who loves the same console or mobile game, or whether they tweet or use Vine. Perhaps it’s friends they have in common and can envision hanging out after work. Fun! This “Buddy System” is part of why we end up with so many companies dominated by male culture and resembling a college frat house. Instead of talent fit, we have talent flop.

Todd Dehlin, Senior recruiter from Quest Groups shared his frustrations about inexperienced recruiters from a headhunter perspective. “We can do an intake on a candidate we think has great skills and the recruiting manager will send us a note saying –“Why did you even bother?” Often, the recruiting manager doesn’t have a clear idea of what necessary skills are needed for the job. Many times we have had to walk them through each segment to explain why this candidate is right for the job and for the company.”

Many recruiters use LinkedIn to find a pool of candidates. LinkedIn uses a proprietary algorithm to rank and order the results you get when doing the search. It allows networking between companies and recruiters and candidates in a way that has been transformative. However, the algorithms are sometimes ineffective. And… in the hands of an inexperienced recruiter can be disastrous. Case in point, I get recruiting requests for engineering roles. Sometimes I get a message from LinkedIn that I would be in the top 25% of candidates. I laugh. I have done many things in my career but engineering is not one of them.

So what can companies do to improve the process and the selection of candidates? Here are some basic ideas that should go a long way to improving your outcomes:

  • Train your recruiters. Spend time with them to teach them what the company needs from the candidate and what the job requires. Train them how to ask questions to uncover a match between the candidates’ experience and the job needs. Caution them they need to find a candidate who can currently do the job.
  • Teach them that arrogance and rude behavior are turn offs. Kindness and compassion go a long way.
  • Assign them a mentor. It is more than training that gives someone a comprehensive understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a senior positions.
  • Realize that candidates will not have every box checked. Most candidates will have an array of experience. If a recruiter waits to have every box checked their will be few candidates.
  • Keep the recruiter up to date on market conditions.
  • Teach recruiters that AGE is not a disease. Experience comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Understand that an experienced candidate is an asset to the potential success of the company and all shareholders.
  • Realize that while great candidates may not win the beer KEG competition today or tomorrow, they might be concerned about how you safely get home.
  • Teach these eager young professionals that not everyone over 30 is a grandparent.
  • Teach them that life is long and 65 is not a retirement age — it’s anopportunity for wisdom from someone who is willing to share.
  • Make sure you create programs to continually train these recruiters.
  • Remind them that algorithms are not the only mechanism, and sometimes they don’t work at all. Counting the key works in a resume, does not make a candidate qualified or unqualified.

Take a look at your internal recruiting team. See if you have given them the tools to really create dynamic leaders in your company. Take some of that creativity and figure out additional ways to help candidates and companies find each other. You will find plenty of talented experienced executives that are right for the job…and they might even buy you a beer.

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