When Is It Time to Hire a Head of Talent?

We’re finding ourselves in this discussion a lot. What used to be a Series A conversation is now a seed-stage consideration. The fight for startup talent is more competitive than ever. It requires a new level of strategy, time commitment, and social consciousness. Relying only on network taps, job boards, and recruiting agencies isn’t cutting it. Founders need someone to own their company’s talent function, so the scaling process is efficient, effective, and EEOC compliant. Looking back at our six years of recruiting intel, we've outlined five key indicators that signal it's likely time to invest in a full-time Head of Talent:

1. Aggressive headcount goals (10+ hires per year)

Talent is the lifeblood of any startup, and the founder needs to be spending at least 50% of their time on hiring, but when 50% turns into 80%, founder-exclusive responsibilities (e.g. investor management, product vision, customer acquisition, etc.) start getting neglected. It becomes pertinent to offload recruiting operations, so the founder is no longer full-cycle owner, but strategic participant.

2. Desire to compete against the "big dogs" for top talent

If a startup wants the market’s very best talent, it means they’ll be  competing against larger companies with greater brand recognition, robust talent acquisition teams and larger budgets. That means that your startup needs to go toe-to-toe with them in order to reel in those amazing hires. It also means that it’s going to take a lot of creativity, strategy, hustle and time to punch above one’s weight class. 

At the end of the day, startups need to ask themselves: why would top talent choose us over that other guy? When a startup’s competition for talent is a bigger flashier company, the one thing that can help level the playing field is a Head of Talent. And the easiest way to find that Head of Talent that will help you compete against the “big dogs”? An executive recruiting service that wants to see you succeed.

3. Inability to meet the demands of the new candidate scorecard

The candidate scorecard has changed significantly over the past year in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the Great Resignation, where employees quit their jobs en masse in search of greener pastures. With that in mind, what do candidates want from startup employers in 2022 and beyond?

  • Remote considerations: The pandemic normalized WFH and other remote work trends, and whether your office is in-person or fully remote, your candidates are likely still looking for more acceptance around remote and hybrid work. A recent survey revealed that 58% of Americans are now able to work from home at least one day per week, and that most employees want some sort of work flexibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your startup has to have a full remote setup, and instead, might even just look like improved flexibility around working from home under strenuous circumstances. 

  • Empathy and flexibility: Employees aren’t just employees. They’re mothers, fathers, sisters, husbands, caretakers, and single parents. Life can be messy and unpredictable. It’s likely that employees are wondering “If I join your startup, will taking my sick daughter to the doctor at the end of the quarter make you question my commitment to being a top performer?” Employees don’t want to feel like they’re being punished when life happens.

  • Stability: Businesses felt the turmoil of the pandemic to the point where about 200,000 of them in the United States were forced to permanently shutter. With pandemic-related closures and other insecurities, employees are now looking for the opposite: stability. They don’t want to work with your startup now, only to be sent packing in a few short months. Prospective employees want to feel like their place of employment isn’t going anywhere, and that their jobs are secure. 

  • Runway: Before the pandemic, candidates might have been more trusting about your finances without needing too much information. But now things are different, because COVID-19 showed employees that too many startups burn cash at an unsustainable rate. It’s likely your candidates want to know: “What about you? Do I trust and respect how you manage money?”

  • Salary: 2022 has been a rocky year for the economy, and your prospective hires are likely shoring up their savings accounts as we speak. Today, people need more cash in their pocket, and not much else is going to cut it. In theory, equity is great, but during COVID, that unrealized equity couldn’t pay their rent. Your prospective hires might want to know: “What’s your philosophy on compensation?” 

  • Candidate experience:  When it comes to the hiring process, it’s rough out there. Candidates can put in application after application, only to get radio silence in return. It’s also likely that your candidates are also interviewing with several companies at the same time, and the last thing they want to feel is unremarkable. They might be asking: “Do I feel special and valued or more like a number in your pipeline?”

  • Mission and values: Candidates want to work at startups they believe in, and that doesn’t start and end at the product and services. Candidates want to work at a company that aligns with their missions and values, and that stands for causes they believe in. They might be wondering “What are you doing to change the world? Do I believe in what you’re building and how you approach running a business?”

4. New hires aren’t staying

Whether voluntary or involuntary, if new hires aren’t staying for at least one year, there’s likely something that needs fixing. To start, there's a strong chance it's the onboarding process (or lack thereof) that’s causing issues with your new hires, because it means that candidates aren't smoothly transitioning to full-time employees. Research shows new employees who go through a structured onboarding program are 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years. A Head of Talent can help your candidates seamlessly transition to employees by guiding them through the onboarding process. 

Another reason why new hires might not be staying? They don’t feel like they’re being heard. If a new hire is facing trouble, they may try to reach out for help or answers. But without a designated Head of Talent, answers might be slow and unfulfilling. When there’s a Head of Talent, they’re responsible for quickly looking into issues new hires may be facing. 

5. No one is owning digital reputation/employer brand

Just like you’re likely going to look into your potential hires, your candidates are going to also look into your startup. Namely, they’re going to factor in your digital reputation (such as your online presence) and your branding. According to LinkedIn, potential hires really do take these things into consideration, with 75% of job seekers saying they consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job. These factors can also reduce the amount startups need to spend on hiring. That same LinkedIn report also found that companies that invest in their employer brand reduce the cost-per-hire by 50%, improve the number of qualified applicants by 50% and make hires 1-2x faster.

What makes an excellent Head of Talent?

When you’re looking to bring on a Head of Talent, what exactly should you be looking for? Here are some traits and qualities that make an excellent Head of Talent:

  •  Storytellers: A Head of Talent needs to be a people person. They need to not only be an excellent resource for your people in times of need, but they should be able to draw in your team, keep them engaged, and be able to shift the tides of social situations. Great storytelling can help with all of these things. Storytellers are able to earn someone’s attention, keep it for a length of time, and get an important point across.

  • Good listeners: Your Head of Talent is going to need to handle the expected and the unexpected, and it’s likely the case that employees will come to them with things on their mind. Whether it’s something with an easy solution or an issue that needs a heavy hand, your Head of Talent needs to be a top-notch listener in order to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

  • Flexible: Again, a day in the life of a Head of Talent is a little unpredictable. Working with new hires, managing onboarding, and assisting current staff are just a few of the umbrella functions your Head of Talent might perform. They need to be ready to jump into things at a moment’s notice, even if it wasn’t explicitly in their job description. 

  • Prioritize DEI: DEI, or diversity, equity, and inclusion, is incredibly important for Heads of Talent to not only understand, but to prioritize. You don’t want to have to explain why DEI is important to your Head of Talent, or need to point out ways they need to demonstrate that they prioritize it.

  • Understand hiring metrics: Hiring doesn’t need to be abstract and haphazard, and instead, it can be data-driven. When your Head of Talent understands hiring metrics, they can make better informed decisions.

What happens if you wait too long to hire a Head of Talent?

While it might be tough to decide exactly when to bring on a Head of Talent, there’s a few things that you don’t want to happen. If your company is growing and expanding, you don’t want to get too big that acquiring a Head of Talent suddenly becomes urgent. Picture this: you have a bunch of new hires, but they all flop the onboarding process, because there’s no Head of Talent to help guide them through it. You don’t want new employees to join your company and find out that things are messy on the inside. This could shake employee confidence in the crucial early stages.

The bottom line? If you wait too long to hire a Head of Talent, you might find yourself in a desperate position to acquire one as quickly as possible. 

We can help you find your next head of talent.

Who you bring onboard your company matters, but searching for a Head of Talent doesn’t need to be something you tackle on your own. That’s why we’re here. We’re Will Reed, and we’re an executive search firm built exclusively for early-stage founders. We’re culture obsessed, and we tap into our powerful network and resources to help match you with your dream candidates.

Interested in finding out how Will Reed can help with hiring for your startup?

Contact us today


June 30, 2022

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