Recruitment – a VC perspective

Recruitment

Knowing what you are looking for is critical if you are going to get the most out of an interview. I seem to have been spending a lot of time recently meeting candidates for senior positions at companies in our portfolio so I thought I’d share a few thoughts. This is an art not a science and different things work for different people – so this is just my 2 cents worth.
Firstly – the role of the VC in the decision making process is often unclear. As investors and board members we want to help our companies get the best people they can – so we want to be closely involved – yet at the same time it is not us who will work day to day with the successful candidate. For me this means the final decision needs to rest with the CEO – we can help guide that decision, and at the limit we might resist an appointment on the grounds that we could do better, but that is the way it needs to work.

If the vacancy is for a CEO then depending on their stake the role of the VC in the final decision will be much greater.

Turning to the actual interview – the first things I am looking for when I meet someone are energy, intelligence, commitment and integrity. These qualities are essential in the leaders (and rank and file) at any start-up and if the conversation turns to compromise in any of them then I start to get nervous pretty quickly.
Relevant experience, cultural fit, geography and many other factors are also very important, but a) these are often areas where management are better placed to make a judgement call than I am, and b) trade-offs are more possible.

One of the toughest things in any recruitment process is knowing when you have done enough work and seen enough people. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find someone quickly who is just perfect, but usually the reality of recruiting for small companies is that that doesn’t happen. I’ve blogged before that taking decisions quickly in the face of uncertainty can be really helpful and I think that applies here as well. Once you have found someone who could do a great job for you my instinct would be to get them employed and working for you quickly and resist the temptation to keep searching for the perfect candidate. That way you keep momentum in your business, and you avoid the risk of losing a good candidate.

  • Nic, As a headhunter in this space and with dozens of searches under my belt (expanding given the number of lunches we have to suffer), there’s no prescriptive method to campaigns.

    Even with CEO searches, most campaigns need at least 6 or more shortlisted candidates to give the various stakeholders the confidence to make a united decision. When you have various decision makers (who should be aligned if there’s a managed process), it is normally possible to push towards a united decision and successful campaign without too much pain. However, the role of the headhunter should be very hands on to keep this collective thinking going in the right direction – and managing the candidates expectations too of course.

    I concur with the view that aside from CEO/Chairman appointments, the executive team should be in control. Investors always have a say (in key appointments)of course but only if their views are tangible and informed.

    On the odd rare occasion (VP Product/CTO/CEO type hires), I would recommend an early decision on a 90% candidate rather than wait for that perfect 100% – invariably they either don’t exist or are going to be offered elsewhere soon!

    Keep up the good blogging!

  • Nic, As a headhunter in this space and with dozens of searches under my belt (expanding given the number of lunches we have to suffer), there’s no prescriptive method to campaigns.

    Even with CEO searches, most campaigns need at least 6 or more shortlisted candidates to give the various stakeholders the confidence to make a united decision. When you have various decision makers (who should be aligned if there’s a managed process), it is normally possible to push towards a united decision and successful campaign without too much pain. However, the role of the headhunter should be very hands on to keep this collective thinking going in the right direction – and managing the candidates expectations too of course.

    I concur with the view that aside from CEO/Chairman appointments, the executive team should be in control. Investors always have a say (in key appointments)of course but only if their views are tangible and informed.

    On the odd rare occasion (VP Product/CTO/CEO type hires), I would recommend an early decision on a 90% candidate rather than wait for that perfect 100% – invariably they either don’t exist or are going to be offered elsewhere soon!

    Keep up the good blogging!

  • Joao

    I found your post somewhat intriguing. I suggest people I trust and have worked with previously in other portfolio companies, but in general I do not proactively interview them myself, unless the CEO explicitly asks me to share my thoughts (or if I am actually hiring the CEO). I guess I implicitly assume that one of the CEO’s key skills should be precisely hiring his team. Is VC involvement that usual in Europe at the senior level?

  • Joao

    I found your post somewhat intriguing. I suggest people I trust and have worked with previously in other portfolio companies, but in general I do not proactively interview them myself, unless the CEO explicitly asks me to share my thoughts (or if I am actually hiring the CEO). I guess I implicitly assume that one of the CEO’s key skills should be precisely hiring his team. Is VC involvement that usual in Europe at the senior level?

  • nic

    Thanks guys.

    Joao – the answer to your question depends in part on how mature the business is, but in general for the top couple of key hires the CEO usually asks for our thoughts and I think most of us like to be involved.

  • nic

    Thanks guys.

    Joao – the answer to your question depends in part on how mature the business is, but in general for the top couple of key hires the CEO usually asks for our thoughts and I think most of us like to be involved.