I continue to get several calls a day from clients (entrepreneurs, VC’s, late stage privates and public companies) saying “I need a VP of this or a VP of that and tell me if you’d take it on.” Some situations are pretty early stage, and as cool as early stage companies are, the earlier you are, the harder it is to attract talent. People want low risk, high reward right now, so to get people who are good, who are willing to take the risk of earlier stage companies, you have to be prepared to dig really deep, hunt very widely, and beg, borrow and steal to get peoples’ attention. And the junior VP in a larger company is just as hard. Hard is good and we all like a challenge, but the key for clients: match the role with the search person.
My advice is to really step back and think: “this is going to be a grind and a dogfight, so whom should I use to get this done?” The usual suspects aren’t always the right answer in picking a search person, though as a “usual suspect myself,” I would hate for clients to stop thinking about me!
Here is how to think about hiring that killer up and comer VP for either a small startup or a public company looking for people several layers below the CEO:
- Use our hungry up-and-comers for these projects. They’re about DIGGING and CARPET BOMBING, and begging people to talk to you, not taking no for an answer, and being clever about getting in front of people. Higher level projects are much more strategic and require, typically, a senior search person to navigate Board dynamics, convince successful CEOs, or CFOs, or what have you, to talk to your client and ultimately accept your offer because, in part, they trust the judgment of the search person as much as their own judgment. I’d like to believe that my partners and I possess this unique ability and credibility to impact senior people. But the junior VP project is a different animal altogether…When in Rome…
- Senior search people who would take on a junior VP project are not likely good, because they’re not highly sought after for higher visibility projects. If they were highly sought after, with great respect for the junior VP stuff, they’d be doing more senior work. It’s that simple and basic. Like any profession, the search profession is full of people who are ambitious to climb higher, vs stall out. You work your way UP, not down. Having said that, it is always fun to do the occasional “crazy” project and we all love to mix it up a bit. Sometimes you find an entrepreneur, or they find you, to whom you just can’t say no for anything. I’d do a janitor search for Jyoti Bansal, for example.
- The talent at the VP level are typically now a next gen, Millenial or Gen X crowd. Match the candidate population with your recruiter, and you’ll find they’ll get great results. Again, want to be a Roman (well trained commando)? Your search consultant should be able to look/act like one.
- The next generation talent will work 80 hours a week to prove themselves. My partner, Lee Schweichler, still works harder than many 25 year olds I know, and none of my partners play any serious golf. I don’t even have a handicap. But we are the exception. None of us were hugged enough as kids, or maybe we’re just adrenaline junkies who are paranoid of failure and love a challenge. Most of our peers are playing more golf than working, spend more time selling vs doing projects, etc. If I were choosing a search consultant for an up-and-comer VP, I wouldn’t select myself. I’d hire our up-and-comers. It’s a dog fight out there. Hire the rabid, hungry dog to win a dog fight.
Good luck. It’s a brave, tough, hard world right now in this chaotic realm of technology, Bay Area, recruiting, too much money sloshing around, etc. Things are tense, things are sketchy, things are moving at warp speed. Don’t look at your recruiter’s resume, look at the fire in their eyes and the clock speed in their brains, because otherwise you’re in for a long, difficult search with someone who won’t work as hard for your tricky search, and won’t crawl through fire to pull it off.
It’s an age-old, universal truth that if you give someone who is well-trained, hungry and smart a shot, most often it pays off significantly. This applies to just about anything, from football to business. In other words, give our up-and-comers a shot…I have 1000% faith in every one of them and their ability to outperform any “veteran” I know.